Fri | Nov 24, 2017

Laws of Eve | Sexual harassment comes to light

Published:Monday | October 16, 2017 | 12:00 AM

News of the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse of several women by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has dominated the media within the last week. To understand the extent of Weinstein's wealth, influence and power, we note that the company he co-found with his bother, Miramax, is credited with films we know such as Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love and The King's Speech, and that his movies have earned more than 300 Oscar nominations.

According to the reports, for more than 20 years, there have been rumours of harassment and abuse, but many claims were settled on conditions of non-disclosure, or the victims have simply been too afraid to speak up.

All of that happened in the United States of America, where there are sexual harassment laws that are intended to protect persons who, in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, are the objects of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. In Weinstein's case, the allegations range from groping to demands for women to perform sexual acts on him to rape. The horrific accounts of the women who encountered Weinstein are difficult to read or comprehend.

The fact is that there may be no Hollywood moguls in Jamaica, but the experiences of many women in the Jamaican workplace are no less frightening.

One reader recently wrote:

"I am a victim of sexual harassment. I am still employed to the company. I have reported it and, even though he admitted to the act, they say they are investigating."

Here is the problem in Jamaica - there is currently no legislation to protect women who find themselves in this situation.

Successive governments have promised to enact sexual harassment legislation. In fact, online searches reveal an article titled 'Sexual Harassment Legislation Coming', which was published on April 30, 2014. It was reported that then Prime Minister Simpson Miller had approved the issue of drafting instructions. That was in fulfilment of a commitment that had been made 14 years before.

In May 2017, the inister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport was being sent to the Legislative Committee with the intention that the Sexual Harassment Bill will be tabled in Parliament before the end of this year. It is, indeed, on the list of bills currently being considered by Parliament, but that provides little comfort for the many persons (not only women) who are forced to work in constant fear.

It is hoped that the act will be passed this year, because victims of sexual harassment need to be empowered to directly inform their harassers that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop, without fear of further discrimination. Victims also need to feel confident that there will be redress for the wrong that has been done to them.

None of this will be achieved by simply enacting the legislation. Sensitisation and training will be needed to help to ensure that effective complaint and grievance procedures are implemented in the workplace so that appropriate action can be taken when employees complain.[1]. In conjunction with steps, employers also need to put measures in place to prevent sexual harassment from occurring by clearly communicating that it will not be tolerated.

- Sherry Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator in the firm of Nunes Scholefield DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to lawsofeve@gmail.com or lifestyle@gleanerjm.com. www.eeoc.gov