Rotterdam's street sex harassment ban violates freedom of expression: Court ruling
The Rotterdam ban on sexual harassment on the street - sometimes also referred to as the cat-calling ban - is contrary to freedom of expression, the court in The Hague ruled on Thursday. It is not up to municipalities to restrict this freedom, only parliament and the Senate can decide to do so, the court ruled, NOS reports.
In 2017, Rotterdam and Amsterdam made sexual harassment on the street punishable under a General Local Regulation. Those caught cat-calling, cursing, following, or making lewd comments, among other things, face a fine up to 4,100 euros or up to three months in prison. A number of suspects have since been arrested in Rotterdam.
To investigate whether the criminalization via a General Local Regulation is legally tenable, the Public Prosecution Service in Rotterdam decided to take two cases to court. Thursday's ruling was on one of these cases. The man in question harassed three women by making sexual comments and blowing kisses at them.
The court ruled that there is enough evidence to prove the man did what he was accused of. But he cannot be prosecuted for sexual harassment on the street, because this should never have been made punishable by the municipality. Rotterdam also did not make it sufficiently clear where the boundary lies between permissible and punishable behavior, the court said. This boundary must be clear according to the European Convention of Human Rights.
A subdistrict court previously acquitted the man for the comments he made, because these fall under freedom of expression, but fined him for blowing kisses at the women. The court in The Hague acquitted him on both counts, saying that there is no distinction between "verbal or physical manifestation of thoughts or feelings". Both fall under freedom of expression.