The Malta Independent 23 May 2024, Thursday
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TMID Editorial: What kind of message is being sent on sexual harassment?

Friday, 19 May 2023, 12:11 Last update: about 2 years ago

A court appeals judgement earlier this week has shown that there is still a long way to go for our institutions to show women that they can be protected from and seek justice on things such as sexual harassment.

An appeal saw the sentence for a senior Malta Philharmonic Orchestra official who pleaded guilty to sexually harassing a musician who was part of the orchestra for over three years reduced to a conditional discharge and a fine.

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The Gozitan man, whose name cannot be published on a court order, had pleaded guilty to all charges last October.

He is understood to have sent the woman sexually-suggestive messages and would repeatedly touch her inappropriately, ignoring her requests that he stop. The abuse lasted from May 2019 till around September 2022. The victim, a classically trained musician, had resigned from the Orchestra to avoid further contact with the man.

The senior official at the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra had been charged with harassing the victim, subjecting the woman to an unsolicited act of physical intimacy, subjecting her to unwanted sexual behaviour and misuse of telecommunications equipment.

A representative of the victim explained that the man would persistently attempt to invade the woman’s personal space and would also frequently touch her inappropriately, despite her resistance and vocal objections, forcing her to resign from the MPO, “giving up her dream.”     

The man pleaded guilty and the Court of Magistrates had sentenced the man to one year in prison, suspended for four years and imposed a five-year restraining order in favour of the victim.

The man’s lawyers however appealed the judgment, arguing it was too harsh.

In a judgment handed down on 27 April, the Court of Criminal Appeal, presided by Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera confirmed the finding of guilt, but reduced the man’s punishment to a conditional discharge and a €500 fine.

The new sentence reduces the final punishment to the man to little more than a slap on the wrist.

We need to keep in mind the effect that this case had on the victim: A woman who had to go through a three-year period of being sexually harassed to the point that she had to ultimately quit her job and give up on her dream.

As the way in which women are treated in society, and as more and more stories concerning sexual harassment, abuse towards women, and – ultimately – femicides emerge, a clear message needs to be sent that women can count on the country’s institutions for protection and for justice to be done with them.

But in this case, the perpetrator comes out of his three-year crusade to harass his victim with a mere slap on the wrist and a negligible fine, while the victim – who had to go through all of this – has had to give up on her dream job.

It should be noted that in this particular case, the Philharmonic Orchestra’s CEO Sigmund Mifsud was also charged separately with tampering with evidence by trying to cover up the scandal and trying to get the woman to change her version of events.

Women will never feel safe in this country if they know that they cannot count on the protection of the country’s institutions.

What message does this new sentence send for any woman going through sexual harassment right now?  Why would they go through the very real risk to their safety to try and get justice for themselves, only to see their harasser get off with a slap on the wrist?

 We can speak about equality all we like, but the reality is that these gender-based crimes need to be stamped out and a message needs to be sent that such things are intolerable.

In this case, the message being sent by the courts is, sadly, far from that.

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