Catcalling and whistling: street harassment illegal in Chile

SANTIAGO – The Chamber of Diputados unanimously approved a bill that seeks to punish street harassment with fines and prison time. Proponents of the bill and many others were thrilled about the news.

The Chamber of Diputados (Chile’s lower house of congress) gave the green light to a bill that seeks to punish street harassment. The Chamber’s vote was unanimous: 149 in favor and 6 abstentions by absence.

The bill now moves on to the President for approval or veto, but everyone expects he will approve it and that it will be passed into law in the coming weeks.

Once passed into law, it will modify the current Criminal Code, which more broadly proscribes sexual harassment in public spaces.

The soon-to-be law’s four axes: a definition, fines, imprisonment, and education

Promoted by the Observatory Against Street Harassment (OCAC), the bill was originally presented in 2015, in order to curb sexual harassment primarily suffered by women. The bill has four fundamental axes, as detailed on the OCAC website:

  1. To define street harassment as “an act of sexual connotation, occurring in public places, against a person who does not want it,” whether male or female, affecting the person’s dignity and/or fundamental rights.
  2. To punish with fines ranging from UTM $0.5 (US $ 36) to UTM $20 (US $ 1,447) “acts of verbal and nonverbal sexual connotation, the capture of images or videos and acts without physical contact such as exhibitionism, masturbation, and persecution. “
  3. To establish as a crime under the Penal Code street sexual harassment that includes “acts with physical contact such as undue touching, grabbing, rubbing or “punteo” (grinding), which will be punished with a prison sentence of between 61 and 540 days.
  4. To prevent street sexual harassment through public policy and education.

Proponents are “proud, happy and wanting more”

OCAC celebrated the news of the vote via Twitter: “We did it! After 5 years of hard work, a lot of patience, fatigue and voluntary work, today we can say: We have the #RespetoCallejero Law!” OCAC also had a message for its opposition: “They told us we were crazy, that we [over-exaggerated], but we did not step back.” In sum, “We are proud, happy and wanting more, because we know that harassment is not only suffered on the street.”

The Minister for Women and Gender Equality, Isabel Plá, also cheered the unanimous vote through her Twitter account, saying that this was “an important step as a country for the full respect and safety of women.”

Feminist diputada Karol Cariola also came out to express her joy at the bill’s approval, emphasizing that this is “a great initiative, which undoubtedly contributes to our streets being a space free of harassment.”

Sexual harassment in Chile

In 2018, as summarized by El Mostrador, Cadem published a survey on sexual harassment which showed that 80% of respondents said that sexual harassment occurred “very” or “fairly” frequently in Chile.

In fact, according to a related article by El Mostrador, 34% of the survey respondents said they personally had experienced sexual harassment. Of these, 48% said that “intimate parts of their bodies” had been intentionally touched or rubbed up against. By a large margin, the respondents said that “public places (such as streets, squares, or parks),” followed very closely by “public transport (Micro – Metro),” are where the harassment occurred.

Photo Series: March in Santiago at International Women´s Day

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