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Date: Wed, 19 Aug 98 19:42:51 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: CHILE: Sexual Harassment Not a Crime, Say Lawmakers
Article: 41507
To: undisclosed-recipients:;@chumbly.math.missouri.edu
Message-ID: <bulk.27535.19980820181727@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 457.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-CHILE: Sexual Harassment Not a Crime, Say Lawmakers **
** Written 4:18 PM Aug 17, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Sexual Harassment Not a Crime, Say Lawmakers

By Gustavo Gonzalez, Workers World
14 August 1998

SANTIAGO, Aug 14 (IPS) - The majority of the members of a parliamentary commission in Chile refused to classify sexual harassment as a crime, arguing that it was too difficult to define and to prove.

The decision of the mixed commission of senators and deputies debating a draft law on sexual abuse brought a chorus of protests from women's organisations and unions concerned about harassment in the workplace.

A majority of members of the commission, including right-wing opposition as well as centre-left governing coalition legislators, voted against the draft law Thursday in Congress in the port town of Valparaiso, 120 kms west of Santiago.

Of the 10 members of the mixed commission, only deputies Maria Antonieta Saa and Sergio Elgueta of the co-governing Party for Democracy and Christian Democracy Party, respectively, voted in favour of criminalising sexual harassment.

"Women have been left defenceless once again," protested Saa, a long-time activist for women's rights who was voted into the Chamber of Deputies in 1993.

Still, the question has not been closed. Another bill criminalising and sanctioning sexual harassment is still pending in Congress.

But the commission's vote was taken as a bad omen for the second bill, which emerged from a parliamentary motion sponsored by the governmental National Women's Service (SERNAM), and identifies men as well as women as possible victims of harassment.

CUT, the country's leading union confederation, is also keen on seeing a law enacted that would protect women from pressure and abuse by superiors in the workplace.

There are no statistics on sexual harassment in Chile, precisely due to the fact that it is not covered by any law.

But although few cases are reported, CUT secretary-general Maria Rozas said it is a serious labour problem. Existing reports indicate that the phenomenon is pervasive in textile factories, which employ mainly women, as well as fruit harvesting and packing centres, which hire large numbers of female workers on a seasonal basis.

Women's groups have also brought to light cases of psychological and physical pressure for sexual favours in high schools, universities, hospitals, private companies and banks.

Deputy Elgueta noted that the failure to criminalise sexual harassment permitted private companies in particular to continue enjoying impunity, because such cases are sanctioned in one form or another in the public administration and judiciary.

Administrative statutes in ministries and other state bodies punish "undue conduct," while in the legal sphere harassment can be considered a form of perversion of the course of justice or a misdemeanour.

Senator Hernan Larrain of the right-wing Independent Democratic Union, one of the lawmakers who spearheaded the commission's negative vote, argued that in other countries laws against sexual harassment had led to extreme situations, in which "any conduct, even taking someone's arm or accompanying them, gives rise to accusations of sexual harassment."

Larrain maintained that Chile must avoid a situation where university professors must "lecture with their doors open and can never meet alone with students."


Origin: Montevideo/RIGHTS-CHILE/ ----

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