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Let’s talk about harassment, specifically sexual harassment. It is something so prevalent in our society yet we are not seriously addressing the issue in our communities and the country at large. Too often complains of sexual harassment are swept under the rug and victims are left to deal with the trauma on their own. So, what is sexual harassment? The Sexual Harassment Act of 2015 defines sexual harassment as “The making of any sexual advance towards a person by another person, which is a reasonably regarded as unwelcome, offensive or humiliating by the person towards whom the sexual advance is made.” (3). Yes men, a lot of the situations you put women in on a daily basis is considered sexual harassment. Yet we are not expected to complain because to you is just a “simple touch” so “wah [we] a gwaan suh fah?”, words women are greeted with when we reject unwanted interactions with men. And no, I am not implying that only women or girls are sexually harassed. Men and boys are also victims, more often than we know. So my question is, if sexual harassment affects so many people of varying age and sex, then why isn’t more being done to address these issues? Why does Jamaica have a rape culture that no one seems to be acknowledging? Why do we have a culture of victim blaming? Why are little girls told they are too “force ripe” or they act “too grown” when they are harassed? Why are women told to “dress better” to avoid being raped? Why do men and boys prefer to suffer in silence than speak up about being harassed? So many questions to be answered yet there are no serious discussions happening in our communities or country. It is time for us to unite and speak up about Jamaica’s underbelly as it relates to rape and other forms of sexual harassment.
It is disturbing to know that sexual harassment is practical ignored yet politicians are basically ridiculing the Me Too movement and attempting to limit victims to only 12 months to file a complaint. Once again I am not saying that men are not sexually harassed. But let’s be real, females are most often the victims while males are typically the perpetrators. So, how are these old men in Parliament, seemingly oblivious to the daily struggles women face regarding sexual harassment, allowed to make these important decisions. I must commend Minister Grange for her role in the proposal of the Sexual Harrassment Bill in July of 2019. As a result there are now more serious conversations being had about sexual harassment, especially as it relates to power dynamics in the workplace. However, more still needs to be done. It is good to have laws but laws are more aimed at dealing with sexual harassment after it has occurred. How do we, as a society, prevent these incidents and/or minimize the frequency in which they occur? It all comes down to socialization. We have a culture of telling our girls what not to do, where not to go and what not to wear to avoid being sexually harassed. But how have we been socializing our boys? We live in a society where sexual prowess determines manliness or manhood. The objectification of the female body is glorified in music, movies and various forms of media. Yet we do not take the time to teach our boys about harassment; what is acceptable and unacceptable when dealing with the opposite sex and even the same sex. We need to teach our children that no means no, so when they become adults they have already grasped this concept. Men are socialized to think catcalling is okay and the verbal assault they subject women to when they are rejected is acceptable. How can you believe inappropriately touching someone without their consent is okay? Those little touches on the arms, legs, breasts and buttocks when we walk by or just happen to be sitting beside you are not only unacceptable but appalling. Women would like to move freely on a daily basis without fear of being verbally and physically harassed. Is that too much to ask?
The Jamaican Constitution states in the Sexual Harassment Act of 2015 that a victim has “a period of twelve months from the date of the last alleged attack” to file a complaint. (11). Twelve months?!!!! Now, I have seen that twelve months cap applied to other things such as insurance claims, which is understandable. But with all the trauma, humiliation, intimidation, manipulation and power dynamics attached to sexual harassment, how can twelve months be enough? In June of 2020, Minister Delroy Chuck defended this twelve months limitation that is included in a newly proposed Bill by saying, ” No. If you don’t complain withing 12 months, please, cut it out.”. After making such an utterly repulsive statement, he went on to downplaying the Me Too movement in the United States followed by laughter. These are the kinds of people who determine the fate of sexually harassed victims in our country. No wonder many are afraid to come forward and file reports. Is sexual harassment a joke to you sir? We need to do better. Parents/ guardians, politicians, pastors, teachers, citizens/residents, we need to do better. Too many amongst us are suffering because of our silence. Let’s all do our parts to protect victims and potential victims of sexual harassment. And we are all potential victims, no one is exempted.