Chuck says sorry, as women theologians also slam him

Chuck says sorry, as women theologians also slam him

Sunday, June 28, 2020

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Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has apologised “unreservedly” for what he called the lack of sensitivity displayed during a discussion of the issue of sexual harassment.

Chuck, the Member of Parliament for St Andrew North East, was speaking during a sitting of the Joint Select Committee on the Sexual Harassment Bill in the House of Representatives last week. He was commenting on the time period within which a non-criminal sexual harassment complaint can be made.

In seeking to determine a reasonable time period for complaints in Jamaica, he made reference to the #MeToo Movement as he noted the length of time which elapsed between the encounters and the matters being reported.

Chuck, in issuing his apology, stated, “When I queried what time limit would be appropriate, I made remarks about the #MeToo Movement. I unreservedly apologise to anyone who found my remarks inappropriate, as I never intended to disrespect the #MeToo Movement or to diminish the seriousness of the emotional trauma caused by sexual harassment, but on reflection I understand the concerns raised by members of the public.”

Chuck said he fully recognised the courage and strength of victims of sexual harassment who speak out against offenders, and stated that, in fact, in his other contributions to the discussion he encouraged women to report and bring criminal charges against men who touch them without invitation.

In the same committee meeting, Chuck lamented that he is pained by the crudeness and brutish behaviour meted out to women regularly in communities across Jamaica. He said respect for women, treating them with dignity and civility is critical.

Chuck further added that Jamaica must 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.

One of the organisations which took Chuck to task was the Caribbean Women Theologians for Transformation, which, in a statement, chided the minister for asserting that justice can be achieved in a “timely manner”.

The statement, with the header 'Sexual harassment is no laughing matter', reads:

“To hear Jamaica's Minister of Justice make light of the challenges that attend victims of sexual abuse and harassment well beyond the 12-month period which he proposes for the reporting time, brings to mind a kind of justice that is for 'just us'. That justice is for those who have the 'right' to face accusation in a 'timely' manner. It should be known that it takes more than simply being the 'holder of balls' to hold men accountable for the hurt they do.

“The 'just-us' sentiments in the minister's statements also implied that women were the only ones who suffer at the hands of sexual violators; women can be sexual violators; men can be victims of sexual violation; sexual violation can be same-sex as it can be heterosexual. Whoever is the victim of sexual harassment or abuse, the violation can be so traumatic that in a bid to survive, a victim may repress his or her memory for years yet act out the trauma of the violation.

“Before being so quick to settle the matter, consideration must be given to some of the legacies that unresolved sexual trauma leaves, including constantly assessing if certain behaviours are sexual abuse and harassment. For many victims, words associated with truth and trust are cushions for actions that served another's sexual desires, but which damaged their sense of self in unimaginable ways. Pleasantries and promises can be the means by which exploitation takes place. Little thought is given to those who are used and abused as the means by which others satiate their passing impulses. The concision of the passing and therefore repeated pleasure derived by abusers pales in comparison to the complex, complicated and continuous implications that are intricately interwoven into aspects of the lives of the abused that remain unknown to those who have never have experienced such horror or helplessness. Many victims are groomed to shoulder magnitudes of shame, blame and responsibility — a process that often goes on well beyond a period of 12 months.

“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; think of how childhood internal fights to survive can mature into adult struggles to appreciate the true nature of grace that is available to and through them. 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 about the one who learns to overcompensate in some areas of development, because there are other areas that are grossly impaired. 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 that compliments are knives picking away at the incipient barriers still in need of buttressing. Some learn that pleasantries are like escalators, seemingly innocuous, yet inching them closer and closer to the source of trouble without any effort on their part. 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. Some learn not to speak up for themselves, lest their needs expose the inadequacies of others. Some learn to dull their shine, so that other's dullness can shine. Some learn not to maximise their potential, to stop short of their highest best, to self-sabotage opportunities for release and full healing, because somehow, they are not worth it.

“Before rushing cases of sexual violation through a 'just-us' system that seeks expedience only for the accused, the following should be contemplated:

• Sexual violators are not only the bus and taxi men who prey on innocent school girls or the male co-workers who are simply jesting. They include both poor and powerful personages — politicians, pastors, police, policymakers, prisoners, paupers and everyone in between.

• Victims of sexual violation are not just lower-class females. They include men, women and children, regardless of their economic standing and educational standard, culture and class, nationality or neighbourhood; they are everywhere.

• Constantly referencing someone's sexual attractiveness as a means of establishing connection and exerting control can indicate compromised integrity, and a threat to basic human dignity.

• Sexual violators make environments in which we reside and re-create, work and worship, live and love toxic, and stymie the potential of our common life together.

• Sexual violators can be redeemed. Rather than the pursuit of botched 'just-us', let us commit to a campaign that challenges exploitation — the (c)overt and the (un)intentional included — and pursues exposure of violators as well as builds a culture of accountability.

• Sexual violators should be made to feel uncomfortable in their skin until the breach is repaired. They should be silenced into shame for the disruption they cause until they speak out, in truth and honesty, without being placating or patronising, against the very sins of which they have repented, and are recovering. They should become a voice of the damage that has and can result as a result of the claim that 'I am only human'. They should become advocates for those who have been victimised by abuse, and its more present and pervasive cousin called harassment.

“True justice is not just about how quickly people can be dragged through the 'just-us' system, but is present when the mindset of mercy is pursued with the same rigour that the freedom to live without fear is pursued.”


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