The Protection from Harassment Act (“POHA“) is a piece of legislation which came into force in November 2014. It was introduced to prevent harassment from taking place in Singapore.
POHA aims to protect individuals from being harassed and/or stalked, whether online or in real life. Perpetrators can be both individuals and organisations.
Victims may sue the perpetrator for compensation in the Protection from Harassment Court. Perpetrators may also be subject to criminal proceedings should the police become involved.
Offences under POHA
There are several different types of acts or behaviours which are prohibited under the POHA.
Section 3 POHA – intentionally causing harassment, alarm, or distress
Any behaviour or action that harasses, alarms, or distresses a person will be caught by section 3.
This covers verbal, physical, or psychological abuse. It also intends to prevent conduct aimed at causing fear and intimidation. Or conduct that could be perceived as being intended to cause fear or intimidation.
It also addresses any unwelcome communication, such as cyberbullying, stalking, and cyber-stalking.
Here’s an example of how someone can be caught by section 3:
Donald is being aggressive, demeaning, and belittling to Joe whilst at work. Donald is berating Joe in front of the rest of the office, using derogatory language and insults such as “You’re too old and stupid to be doing this job, Joe. Give up.”
The maximum punishment for the offence of intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress is a fine of up to $5,000 and/or an imprisonment term of up to 6 months. These maximum penalties are doubled for repeat offenders.
The publication of identity information of a person or someone related to the target person may be considered harassment.
This is known as doxxing.
For publication of personal information (doxxing) with the intention to harass (but cause non-physical harm), the penalties are a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment of up to 6 months, or both.
If the publication intended to cause or facilitate violence, the penalties are a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.
Section 4 POHA – harassment, alarm, or distress
What is the difference from section 3 POHA?
Section 4 POHA covers behaviour or acts which are threatening, abusive, or insulting, and are likely to cause a victim to feel harassed, alarmed or distressed.
So, the behaviour or acts need only be reasonably perceived to have such an effect on someone. It does not need to be intended, as it does under section 3.
An example of this may be:
A radio host may tell a story on air about their friend which was told to them in confidence. Because it is very personal, it causes their friend distress. Though the radio host did not intend to cause distress, they ought to have known it could have this cause. This is because the host knew it was very personal to their friend
An offence under section 4 can attract a fine of up to $5,000. Repeat offenders may expect enhanced penalties of up to a $10,000 fine and/or an imprisonment term of up to 6 months. Note – there is no prison time for the first offence under section 4 as the offence catches acts which may be unintentional and thus accidental.
There is a defence against this type of harassment claim; the accused must prove that either:
- They had no reason to believe that their words, behaviour, or communication would ever be heard, perceived, or seen by the victim.
- Or that their conduct was reasonable.
Doxxing also applies to section 4 in the same way as mentioned above.
Section 5 – fear, provocation, or facilitation of violence
It is a crime to intentionally lead someone to believe or to act in such a way that such a person is likely to believe that unlawful violence will be used against them.
This can include threats of physical violence or non-physical forms of harm. It also includes publishing information relating to a person with the intent or knowledge that it will cause or facilitate violence against someone.
A woman is on her way home when a group of men begin to make aggressive and sexual comments to her. When she tries to ignore them, they follow her, making louder and more vulgar remarks. She tries to walk faster, but they follow her home. This may cause a woman to fear physical and/or sexual violence.
The penalty for causing fear or provocation of violence is a fine of up to $5,000 and/or an imprisonment term of up to 12 months. These penalties may be doubled for repeat offenders.
Section 7 – unlawful stalking
Unlawful stalking of another is an offence under the POHA. A course of conduct will be considered unlawful stalking where it:
- Involves acts or omissions associated with stalking;
- Causes harassment, alarm, or distress; and
- Was intended or was known to be likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress.
Examples of unlawful stalking include:
- Following someone.
- Loitering in areas near someone’s home or business.
- Giving or leaving someone gifts despite being asked to stop doing so.
- Keeping someone under surveillance.
- Repeated circulation of revealing photographs of a classmate to other classmates.
A person convicted of unlawful stalking will face a fine of up to $5,000 and/or an imprisonment term of up to 12 months. These penalties may be doubled for repeat offenders.
Advantages of POHA
The bringing of proceedings under POHA is accessible to all individuals. A person does not need legal knowledge or substantive resources to pursue a claim under this legislation.
A victim can get protection orders, restraining orders, and compensation. This allows victims to protect themselves from further harassment.
Allows for removal of online content which is harassing and/or harmful.
You may bring proceedings against a person overseas. The perpetrator does not have to be a national of Singapore. The victim must have been in Singapore, and the perpetrator must have known or ought to have known the victim was in Singapore at the time.
Potential issues with POHA
Protections under the act may be difficult to enforce.
Although there is the ability to bring proceedings against another person overseas, it requires the cooperation of another country. The process is not as easy, and by the time a victim obtains recourse/vindication, the damage may have already been done.
Victims are heavily reliant on the cooperation of police and courts. Issues can arise due to an unwillingness to assist by the police or courts.
There can be difficulties obtaining protection orders or expedited protection orders.
Pursuing a harassment claim due to conduct in the workplace can often lead to a breakdown in the workplace relationship. This could have the unintended effect of the victim’s job becoming in jeopardy.
The is also a risk of misuse of POHA. The ease of filing makes it very simple to bring a malicious claim against an individual who has been falsely accused.
What can I do if I’m being harassed?
Ensure that you document the harassment by keeping a chronology of events. Include times, dates, events, and who the perpetrator is. Collate as much evidence as possible, provided it does not cause you any risk of harm.
You should report the harassment to the police.
You will be seen as more credible by recording what has occurred. You may use this as evidence if you decide to pursue legal action, and the police may rely upon it to conduct their investigations.
You may contact our lawyers; we can help you obtain certain remedies under the POHA. Instructing us to obtain these remedies will help you get the protections faster, preventing the harassment and the stress you may feel at an earlier stage.
The process can be complex, and you must include enough evidence to persuade a court that such a remedy should be granted.
The types of remedies which we can help you get are:
Protection Order. The court has the authority to issue orders necessary to end the harassment. Typically, they prohibit the perpetrator from engaging in the behaviour complained of, or they may order someone to remove harmful publications. The court may also refer the perpetrator and/or victim to counselling or mediation.
Expedited Protection Order. Some situations may require immediate protection for the victim rather than waiting months for a Protection Order. An Expedited Protection Order can be applied for on its own or in conjunction with an application for a standard Protection Order. Unlike a standard Protection Order, the court’s decision on an Expedited Protection Order cannot be appealed.
Non-Publication Order. An order of non-publication prohibits the publication of statements that are deemed harassing. The court may also order the publication of a statement that corrects the record and illustrates the true facts of the situation.
Civil Claim. A civil claim may be pursued against the offender besides seeking other remedies under POHA. A court has the discretion to award whatever compensation it deems just as equitable. This is a particularly wide discretion and allows courts to freely decide each case on its own merits.
I have been accused of harassment! What do I do?
Ensure you collate necessary evidence and facts to outline your case and defend the allegations. You should refrain from engaging in any form of communication or interaction with the accuser.
You must get the best advice from the outset. We can assist with all forms of harassment. We suggest that you get in contact with our lawyers, as building your case can be difficult.
We can also help you obtain the following remedies regarding false allegations:
Stop Publication Order. This requires the offender to stop publishing the false statement within a specific time frame.
General and Targeted Correction Order. This requires the perpetrator to publish a correction notice in a specific format and time frame. This will be for the purposes of “clearing your name”.
Disabling Order. This requires an internet intermediary to block users’ access to content that spreads falsehoods. If a court feels it is necessary to hurry the issuance of the order, an interim disabling order may be issued while the disabling order is still being sought.
If you would like assistance bringing or defending a harassment claim, please contact us for help.