Suggestion to broaden scope of Sexual Harassment Act

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Suggestion to broaden scope of Sexual Harassment Act

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

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Another group has called for the scope of the Sexual Harassment Act (2019) to be broadened to make provisions for people who interact with the staff of the institutions and entities covered under the legislation.

Presenting a submission on behalf of the Mona unit of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) to a joint select committee of Parliament last Thursday, acting head of the unit Dr Karen Carpenter said that while the Bill addresses issues of sexual impropriety that occur in institutions or in tenant-landlord relationships, there are gaps in methods of application of the law.

“The Bill at present takes care of (these) three populations, but it doesn't address stakeholders who may do business with these institutions, so vendors, truck men, etc — so many services that come within these institutions where there is scope for sexual harassment — but it doesn't suggest that someone who is not employed by the institutions may be the perpetrator, particularly someone who provides regular service,” she explained.

The IGDS also wants the legislation to take into account the virtual work environment. “We are online a lot and we need to examine that particularly, as I understand that many people are coming to work in their pajamas... there is a responsibility on both sides to present for work as if you're working,” she said, noting that this could be addressed by referencing sections of the Cybercrimes Act of 2015.

The institute is also concerned that the Bill fleetingly addresses the psychological aspect of sexual harassment in the workplace, and that the composition of the tribunal does not include the Ministry of Health and Wellness, although sexual harassment is primarily a health issue. “Otherwise we wouldn't have heard about it (sexual harassment) through counsellors and psychologists,” Dr Carpenter said

On the matter of the length of time people have during which they must report an incident of sexual harassment, the IGDS, like other groups that made submissions before it, disagrees with a 12-month limitation, and has recommended that victims should be able to report up to between three and five years.

Furthermore, Dr Carpenter pointed out, the term “frivolous”, which is used to describe false or malicious reports, is problematic, as it suggests that a complaint may be dismissed if it is perceived to be frivolous. “We also want to know what is the criteria for a complaint being dismissed, being escalated and when it is frivolous, a term that really ought to be removed because it means it has no serious purpose. It's quite prejoratory whether it's male or female reporting this act,” she said.

The IGDS also questioned the definition and use of term “amicable” in relation to a settlement between the complainant and the accused person. “These subjective terms would be good to avoid them. We need to ensure the safety, security and well-being of the complainant. What does that mean? Can the person go back to work? Is the supervisor removed, etc... it cannot be an amicable solution. In most instances people don't report because they're afraid, they have to find new employment, they have to find a way out, they have to work around it, they think they can manage it, and when it gets too much they move to another job, and they're not likely to report while they're being supervised by that person,” she reasoned.

She noted that the International Labour Organization has found that 25 per cent of people surveyed say they have been sexually harassed in the workplace. A third of these are men, but only six per cent of them make reports, compared to 20 per cent of the women.

Dr Carpenter said that while women continue to bear the brunt of the burden of sexual harassment, men too are affected and the door must also be opened to allow them to report sexual harassment.


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