A culture of sexual harassment

It is still the mentality of both men and women in Trinidad and Tobago in 2015. Just like crime, corruption, bad driving, bad customer service, and inefficient institutions, we have come to accept lewd and lascivious behaviour as “we culture”. I, for one, do not accept any of these things, and I speak out against them at any and every opportunity.

Now, for the record, I’m no prude. I play mas all over the world; and I admire the artistic ingenuity of the sexual innuendos in soca songs, from since the days of Sparrow’s “Saltfish”.

However, music remains an artform; only idiots degrade women because of lyrics. For example, holding on to a “big truck” is not degrading in itself until a man decides to violate a woman’s body in a way that she finds offensive.

I have seen police officers and government officials (with coatof- arms insignia on their vehicles), whistle at, and throw sexual comments at women in the streets. If I were to describe my feeling when I see these things as nauseating, it would be a euphemism.

A curvaceous woman (or for some men, any woman) walking by a group of men can bet anything that she will be sexually harassed, and if she resists or ignores them, she can certainly expect to receive some authentic Trinbagonian expletives hurled in her direction. Why do so many men feel they can subject every woman to their reprehensible advances? Contrary to popular belief, it does not contribute to the building up of every woman’s confidence, nor am I inclined to believe that “da’is how Trinbagonian men is.” It’s harassment, plain and simple.

Every so often, prominent women in society come out and regurgitate each other’s ideas, many of whom know very little about the issue beyond the obvious.

Some years ago, the President of the Association of Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago erroneously conflated sexual violence and sexual harassment; while earlier this year, a Member of the Rape Crisis Society quoted laws from a “Work Act” (according a local newspaper) that has never existed.

Even more shockingly though is that this woman, in the same article, added that a victim of sexual harassment has to be timely in making a report or raising concern to avoid doubt or suspicion over the claim. This is a comment devoid of any understanding of sexual harassment.

Similar to rape, victims are afraid to come forward.

In the case of rape, fear stems from further violence, whereas in terms of sexual harassment, fear stems from (1) the unlikely ability to prove its existence, considering the covert behaviour of offenders, and (2) the possibility of being ridiculed and/or victimised at work. Overcoming these fears can take months or years.

In August this year, the Executive Director of the Victim and Witness Support Unit reminded the populace of the “indecent assault” offence under the Sexual Offences Act 1986, as amended, but failed to also include the fact that the standard of proof required for a criminal offence is beyond a reasonable doubt (going back to the covert nature of sexual harassment).

Many people believed that the issues affecting women would have been addressed under the auspices of our first female Prime Minister, but instead of dealing with such a serious issue during her five-year-and-three-month term, she tried to use it as political leverage for re-election two weeks before the general election.

Regardless, we do not need an entire piece of legislation dedicated to sexual harassment. The right amendments to the right legislations will suffice.

Nevertheless, when it comes to sexual harassment at work, the Industrial Court had opportunities to set precedents and standards, but failed to do so. In the first such case to reach the Industrial Court in 1995, the judges mentioned the fact that they had to take into account “peculiarities” in our society, which involves “picong.” It is no surprise then that no matters dealing primarily with sexual harassment were brought until 2007. And again, the judges set a bad precedent by referring to the victim’s “evidential burden” to prove sexual harassment.

How exactly is a woman supposed to prove a slap on her buttocks? And exactly how would she be able to record a whisper in her ear? Hopefully, after our Minister of Labour is done pandering to trade unions she would find some time to focus on giving rights to the 80 percent of non-unionised workers who need the most protection, which would include the thousands of women who are sexually harassed every day. We’ll see.

Jamille85@ msn.com


"A culture of sexual harassment"

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