Calls made for stalking to be included in sexual harassment Bill

Calls made for stalking to be included in sexual harassment Bill

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, January 30, 2020

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CALLS from Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) for a broader definition of sexual harassment to include stalking and sexual harassment in the streets, dominated yesterday's first full meeting of a joint select committee (JSC) of Parliament reviewing the new Bill.

Making the submission, Patrick Lalor, policy and advocacy officer at JASL, said that its position on the Bill is that sexual harassment is a serious violation of human rights that has led to more serious sexual offences, such as rape and even murder.

He noted that the 2008 Reproductive Health Survey reported that almost half (48.8 per cent) of all sexually active females in Jamaica, 15-24 years old, said that they were coerced into the act the first time they ever had sex. He said that, similarly, adolescent boys aged 10-15 years did not consent to their first sexual encounter.

“The statistics are further alarming when one considers that most incidents of sexual violence go unreported, especially when our boys and men are victims. These incidents frequently start with some form of sexual harassment and eventually lead to more serious events,” he said.

Lalor's JASL, which is the oldest and largest HIV-focused, human rights NGO in the region, was one of three institutions which gave verbal submissions to the meeting, as the JSC, chaired by Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia “Babsy” Grange, began hearing from institutions and individuals on the final draft of a new Sexual Harassment Act, which is expected to make some serious adjustments to cultural approaches to sex in Jamaica.

Government senator Kerensia Morrison, who made the first response from the parliamentarians' seats, said she welcomed the legislation, which she saw as being 40 years late. “She was also worried about the eventual outcome.

“Unless we have a national consensus, I am worried about the effectiveness of this piece of legislation,” she confessed.

“With all the good intentions, and I know that this is something that you feel very strongly about, Minister (Grange), but unless we have a population that understands that sexual harassment is something that is extremely serious, we are going to continue having the challenges,” she commented.

Opposition MP for South West St Andrew Angela Brown Burke was a bit more optimistic, suggesting that the Act should have been passed long ago but now that it is before the Parliament. “We have already stepped forward and we cannot be timid in what we do”

She conceded that the committee would have to understand the cultural context in which it operates, which is going to makeeffecting the Act difficult.

“This piece of legislation is the one we are looking to in 2020 to deal with sexual harassment. I believe that issues like these must be a part of it. Everyone is not going to be on board. I believe that what our responsibility is going to have to be is the kind of public education to bring everyone around,” she said.

The legislation is said to be necessary to address concerns about sexual harassment, primarily those which are employment-related, occurring in institutions, or arising in landlord and tenant relationships. It also outlines the types of conduct that constitute sexual harassment and prohibits certain related conduct.


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