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Amendment of the right to bring charges for menace from the perspective of gender equality (TAS 226/2020, issued on 10 August 2020)

The Ministry of Justice asked the Ombudsman for Equality to issue a statement on a draft for a government proposal, in which the provision on the right to bring charges for menace is proposed to be amended.

The Ombudsman for Equality supports the proposal for amending the right to bring charges for menace. According to the proposal, menace would become an offence subject to official prosecution if the menace targets a person due to their job and the offender is not a member of personnel at the workplace. A prosecutor would also be allowed to bring charges for menace if the act is targeted at a person due to their public position of trust.

The goal of the proposal is to enhance the prosecution of menace targeted at a person due to their job or public position of trust. People must be able to perform their job or public position of trust without inappropriate harassment or threats of violence or other offences that cause fear. The proposal is part of the objective in the current Government Programme of more effectively addressing systematic harassment, threats and targeting that pose a threat to the freedom of speech, official activities, research, and media freedom.

The Ombudsman for Equality finds it important to take the gender perspective into account when addressing the phenomenon. Studies say that women are more exposed to sexist hate speech. Brutal and sexualized threats of death, rape and violence can meet the statutory definition of menace. As the proposal states, women’s activity as journalists, researchers and politicians in social discourse is targeted with sexually charged threats with an offence more frequently than men. Such acts can violate the honour or privacy of an individual, and at the societal level it is also harmful if being subjected to threats reduces women’s active participation in public discussion and leads to avoidance of discussing some subjects (the “chilling effect”).

According to various reports, women experience more violence and threat at violence at workplaces than men. The reasons are sectors strongly differentiated according to gender and the fact the threat of violence pertains especially to the female-dominated service, health and social sectors. In line with the proposal, the Ombudsman for Equality finds that amending the right to bring charges under official prosecution would improve women’s position in such situations of threat of violence at workplaces. Similarly, the amendment to the right to bring charges for menace would be seen as a positive trend in male-dominated customer service duties.

The Ombudsman for Equality concurs with the view presented in the proposal, according to which the legislative amendment can shape general attitudes and encourage women to participate more actively in social discussion as various actors.

The Ombudsman for Equality deems it positive that the evaluation of gender effects in the draft for the government proposal has been made in a fairly diversified manner. However, when discussing the authorities’ promotion obligation, it would also be necessary to note the obligation of the authorities to take pre-emptive action in a purposeful and systematic manner against all discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression, stated in section 6 c of the Act on Equality between Women and Men.