ONLINE READERS' COMMENT: Sexual harassment is no laughing matter Mr Chuck

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ONLINE READERS' COMMENT: Sexual harassment is no laughing matter Mr Chuck

Friday, June 26, 2020

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Dear Editor,

Most of us who heard or saw the news item of Thursday, June 25, on the discussion by the Joint Select Committee examining the draft Sexual Harassment Bill, got his message loud and clear. For it was the derisive laugh of the Minister for Justice, Mr Delroy Chuck that conveyed the full weight of what he was saying to us as women who may be victims/ survivors of sexual harassment and want to complain about this years afterwards.

He wants no #MeToo Movement here, Mr Chuck told us. This communicated to me that as Minister for Justice, he does not take seriously his duty to the victim/ survivor of sexual harassment – those abused by holders of power in office, elevators, schools and even in the passage-ways in our Parliament building. By his laugh, he ridiculed the idea that Jamaican women could take it upon ourselves to seek justice for abuses suffered years long after the fact.

In all his remarks, I heard no empathy with or understanding of the insecurity, fear, stress and shame that unwelcome physical touching, verbal taunting, subtle and obvious pressure for unwelcome sexual activities and other forms of harassment can have over a long period on the physical, mental and emotional health of victims/survivors, in most cases women. To the perpetrator, those actions might seem to be mere every day incidents, common in a patriarchal culture. However, the victim/survivor, faced wit a host of economic and social realities, can, with recollection of the abuse be immobilised for years by the trauma and fear of retaliation if they were to make a complaint. Mr Danny Roberts' comments and Senator Sapphire Longmore's opposition to a restriction on a time period for filing of complaints, reflected sensitivity to these factors and show that this is clearly an unfinished conversation.

These contrast with the minister's position that survivors/ victims must lodge a complaint about sexual harassment within 12 months or "cut it out" — in other words, forget the abuse, move on. This is unacceptable, for it is abusers who should receive this warning. His mocking utterance against the #MeToo Movement does not give us confidence that he is on the side of the victims/survivors to advance our struggle for human rights in Jamaica.

This is disappointing, for one expects a minister for justice to give attention to use instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and to the 2011 Jamaica National Policy for Gender Equality (NGPE) to guide our laws. He should be drawing on legal precedents such as from New York state, which will as of August of this year, extend the statute for limitation for filing of sexual harassment complaints from one to three years.

With sexual harassment legislation under discussion by various governments for over 13 years, since 2007, this minister should ensure civil society, including women's organisations, participate in the deliberations so that the finalised Bill reflects the aspirations of the Jamaican people and gives justice to best interests.

Linnette S Vassell

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