Modification of the sexual harassment offense: expanding the scope of criminalization and defining aggravating variants
Recently, the Chamber of Deputies, as the decision-making authority, has passed a law amending the provisions of the Penal Code, expanding the scope of criminalization of sexual harassment offenses, as well as introducing two aggravating variants. The primary reason for this initiative is that, according to the current regulations in the Penal Code, for a victim to be able to file a preliminary complaint against an offender for sexual harassment, the existence of a “work or similar relationship” is required. In the absence of such a relationship, the victim is forced to file a complaint for another offense, such as Harassment (Article 208 of the Penal Code) or Threat (Article 206 of the Penal Code).
As a consequence, the Romanian legislator considered that the phrase “within a work or similar relationship” is too broad, leaving the interpretation of the notion of relationships similar to employment to the discretion of the court. Additionally, the condition of establishing a specific relationship between the victim and the perpetrator has extremely serious consequences. The first of these, as expressed by official data, concerns the fact that there is an excessively disproportionate number of convictions for the most serious offenses against freedom and sexual integrity (such as rape, human trafficking, or pimping) compared to convictions for the offense of sexual harassment, which is punished much more lightly. The implicit conclusion drawn from these results is equivalent to the state’s failure to provide a high level of protection for the victim and to discourage offenders from committing criminal acts.
Therefore, in order to rectify this unfavorable situation, the legislative proposal under discussion primarily aims to eliminate the phrase “within a work or similar relationship” from the standard version. Additionally, a new condition has been introduced, namely that, as a result of the solicitation of sexual favors, the victim was placed in a state of fear. Furthermore, in the content of paragraph (2), the assimilated variant of the sexual harassment offense is provided, namely “the use, even once, of any form of severe pressure with the real or apparent purpose of obtaining a sexual act, either in favor of the perpetrator or in favor of another person, if the act does not constitute a more serious offense.”
Regarding the two introduced aggravating variants, the legislator has decided, on the one hand, to transfer the hypothesis of committing sexual harassment “within a work or similar relationship,” thus imposing a harsher penalty on the harasser. The second aggravating variant, on the other hand, concerns the situation where the offense “was committed by teaching or non-teaching staff in pre-university education, or by teaching and research or auxiliary teaching staff in university education, against a student.”
These proposed legislative changes stem from the need to discourage behaviors that pose an extremely high social risk, as well as to provide the victim of the offense with all the necessary tools to seek redress against the aggressor, without being required to file complaints for other offenses provided for in the Penal Code.
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