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Cops harassed - Commish warns sleazy senior officers about sexual advances

Published:Monday | January 11, 2016 | 1:00 AM
Police Commissioner Carl Williams
Women constables at their graduation parade.
Simpson Miller
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Some senior officers in the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) have been sexually harassing their subordinates, leading the Commissioner of Police to issue a warning in the Force Orders that criminal charges and dismissal could result if they are found guilty of the offence.

"Numerous complaints have been received from some of our members of sexual harassment by senior officers. These reports indicate that sexual harassment occurs in the Jamaica Constabulary Force in the form of unwanted physical contact such as actual touching, fondling, pinching, cornering or trapping by leaning over a worker," Dr Carl Williams, wrote in the Force Orders published last Thursday.

The commissioner said that harassment within the Force also takes the form of sexual teasing or the telling of sexually explicit jokes, sexually suggestive looks or gestures, repeated requests for dates or meetings outside work.

Williams' warning to cops follows the tabling of the sexual harassment bill in the House of Representatives in parliament last December by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. The bill seeks to outlaw sexual intimidation, coercion and pestering in the workplace, institutions and in landlord-tenant relationships.

For a first offence, Williams said the accused cop will be given an opportunity to put forward his or her version of the allegation. He said that if there is evidence to substantiate the allegation, then such an offender will be required to seek professional counselling.

"If there is recurrence, the matter will be thoroughly investigated and the file sent to the Police Services Commission and/or the Director of Public Prosecution with a view of preferring disciplinary and or criminal charges," the commissioner said.

Williams said that he is cognisant that instances of sexual harassment are likely to take place in privacy and without witnesses. He said, however, that it is important to preserve any circumstantial evidence which may corroborate the complaint.

But the commissioner has warned that mischief-makers would not be tolerated.

"I cannot overemphasise the fact that these are serious allegations and, as such, it should be borne in mind that malicious, mischievous, frivolous complaints can cause injury, embarrassment, apprehension or discomfort to the alleged offender. Such complaints, where they occur, will become the subject of disciplinary action," the commissioner said.

The Reverend Gary Buddoo Fletcher, head of the JCF chaplaincy unit, told The Gleaner last night that he has never received any reports of sexual harassment by senior cops since taking over in August.

"We haven't have any such formal thing coming to chaplaincy ... "There might be situation of the sort in the organisation which comprise majority men, but I would not say we have a great number of persons reporting sexual harassment," Fletcher said.

"Some of those complains could also go to superior officers ... . People also complain to senior officers about what they might be undergoing at various levels of the Force and it might have come to the attention of the commissioner," he added.

Meanwhile, Jamaica's proposed sexual offence legislation frowns upon unwelcome physical contact of a sexual nature and provides a framework for offenders to pay civil damages in court to persons whose feelings have been injured or who have suffered humiliation as a result of sexual harassment.

Sexual advances such as a demand or request for sex or favours of a sexual nature are to be prohibited within the workplace or institutions if the bill becomes law.

Sexual harassment is defined in the bill as making of any sexual advance towards a person, by another person, which is reasonably regarded as unwelcome, offensive or humiliating by the person towards whom the advancement is made.

The bill places an obligation on employers to "make every reasonable effort to ensure that ... workers are not sexually harassed in the course of their employment".

Williams said that there is a growing awareness in the workplace of sexual harassment as well as less tolerance of it by both the management of the Force and those individuals affected by it. He said that victims should report the offence as soon as possible after the occurrence to an officer who is senior to the offender, to the Force Chaplain or to some other person in whom he or she can confide.

"Investigations should be prompt and all steps taken during the investigation including statements are to be documented," the commissioner said.

"The officer to whom the complaint is made is obliged to ensure that the matter is handled with strict confidentiality, sensitivity and tact. All steps are to be taken to protect complainants against reprisal/victimisation from those against whom complaints are made," he added.