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If Mr Chuck is really sorry…

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Perceptive readers would have noticed that we in this space tend to be favourable to Justice Minister Delroy Chuck who, we believe, is an effective portfolio minister and Member of Parliament for his St Andrew North Eastern constituency.

However, by the time this editorial appears, we expect that Mr Chuck would have tendered his resignation to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, as a sincere sign that he is firmly ensconced in his garment of sackcloth and ashes.

It would then be up to Mr Holness to accept or reject the resignation offer, as is his right under the Jamaica Constitution. But the very act of offering would make it abundantly clear that Mr Chuck meant every word of his apology to women.

We were as shocked as everyone else who thinks highly of Mr Chuck to hear his utterances during last Friday's sitting of the joint select committee of Parliament reviewing a draft of the Sexual Harassment Bill.

Commenting on the proposed time period within which a non-criminal sexual harassment complaint can be made, the justice minister boyishly chuckled: “We don't want the situation that now happens in the 'MeToo' movement in the US, where 30 years later you talk about, 'I was harassed in the elevator.' No, if you don't complain within 12 months, please, please, cut it out.”

Of course, this statement by itself cannot define Mr Chuck's lifetime of service to the people of Jamaica. But it was callous, unkind, insensitive, and painful to the women and men who are sexually abused and finding it hard to report it.

At that very committee meeting Mr Chuck had declared how pained he was by the “crudeness and brutish behaviour meted out to women regularly in communities across Jamaica”, and he urged Jamaicans to begin to grapple with how, as a country, “we work through institutions, communities and families to change the cultural practices to show greater respect for our women”.

How could he then cause himself to be named among those indulging in the “crudeness and brutish behaviour” he so correctly laments?

The heartfelt words of the Caribbean Women Theologians for Transformation chiding Mr Chuck are worth repeating here:

“Women of the cloth are no less victims of both abuse and harassment, even within their own churches. This is worsened when their violations are set against a backdrop of unresolved trauma issues arising from our culture of 'just a little sex' so their very violation is dismissed as of little import.

“… Sadly, the point of the rush to report suggests that the experience(s) of the past have ended, but really the lessons that facilitated survival linger long. Think of the one who learns to lie and to act as if nothing happened. Think about bodies especially children's bodies that learn reactions and responses that it should not have been known in that season.

“…Think of those who act out sexually or otherwise because they have learned they are valueless. Some learn 'confidentiality' as a result of keeping secrets in order to protect predators, keep a family together, or to ward off shame and disgrace in a church, company or community.

“…Some learn to remain (over)vigilant concerning actions and reactions, lest they communicate intent that was never intended, and invitations that were never extended. Some learn shame, and recoil at the simplest overture.”