The Chuck reverse
Justice minister makes about-turn on 12-month sexual harassment complaint limitationFriday, July 03, 2020
BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck has back-pedalled on his position on the one-year limitation for lodging sexual harassment complaints in the workplace and other specified spaces, as proposed in the anti-sexual harassment law that is now being reviewed by a parliamentary committee.
The 12-month period for reporting sexual harassment is a legacy from the original 2015 Bill piloted by then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.
However, last week, Chuck triggered public ire after commenting: “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, cut it out”.
Yesterday, at another meeting of the joint select committee hearing recommendations from various groups for changes to the 2019 Sexual Harassment Act, Chuck argued that the proposed one-year limitation for reporting is not cast in stone, but that there has to be some limit, pointing to the current seven-year cap for civil matters.
“Timely reporting is very useful... It is important that they [accused individuals], if they are engaged in harassment, that they should be exposed at the earliest possible time so that they stop the harassment, and also that the victim has almost a duty to ensure that other victims [are] not harassed, so the earlier that a report is made, the better,” he said.
“If the report is not made early, I would urge the victim to preserve the evidence, because if the evidence is not preserved and a report is made at a later time and the alleged victim cannot properly persuade the tribunal that he or she was harassed, he or she opened themselves to prosecution because the alleged offender may well sue for defamation on the basis that it was contrived,” he asserted.
In the meantime, the justice minister said he will be taking “personal control” of several pieces of legislation aimed at protecting against sexual violations. He said he will be pushing for changes to the Sexual Offences Act, the Offences Against the Person Act, the Child Protection Act, and the Domestic Violence Act amendment at the earliest possible time.
“From what I have gathered during the past week, it is obvious that these Bills need serious amendment so that the women and other victims of sexual violations can be properly protected... I intend to propose to Parliament that for many of these sexual offences the penalty should be increased so that the clear and compelling signal can be sent to sexual offenders and violators in our society that any form of sexual molestation or violation will be severely punished,” he said, stressing that the Bills constitute criminal offences with no statute of limitation attached.
The proposed Sexual Harassment Bill, however, is a civil liability statute that addresses sexual harassment in the workplace and institutions such as schools, hospitals, and prisons, as well as tenant and landlord arrangements.
Chairman of the joint select committee and minister in charge of gender affairs Olivia Grange has rapped some interest groups for failing to submit their recommendations for changes to the anti-sexual harassment legislation.
Opening yesterday's session, Grange stressed the importance of input from the society, pointing to public notices that have been issued, and the subsequent compiling of a list of 23 entities whose contributions the committee felt would have been significant.
“We invited them to come and share their perspectives on the proposals. We sent out the invitations in December and again in February, but regrettably, we have not received contributions from 16 of the 23 entities to which we wrote, even while we hear of criticism from people associated with entities on the list in the media,” she stated.
Grange noted that she has again written to the groups, and of the 16, Jamaicans For Justice and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions have since responded. She, therefore, urged the other invited entities to contribute to the debate.
She said the renewed public debate on sexual harassment has shown that there is some misunderstanding among Jamaicans about what sexual harassment is and the purpose of the law that is being proposed to address it. Grange pointed out that, for instance, it is being said that sexual harassment is forced, non-consensual sexual intercourse or rape. However, she stressed: “Sexual harassment is not rape, and rape is punished under the Sexual Offences Act. Sexual harassment is not the touching or holding of someone without his or her consent; that is assault and battery and is punishable under the Offences Against the Person Act.”