Chuckling dismissal of #MeToo blasted
Kathi Cooke remembers how a hotel manager attempted to fondle her breasts when she was 19 years old. Her grief was compounded later when she witnessed her abuser being conferred with the Order of Distinction, one of Jamaica’s highest national honours.
Makeda Ramgeet left three jobs because she refused sexual advances at her workplace.
“I got demoted and removed from the executive office. My salary got slashed in almost half, and I was frustrated on the job until I resigned,” she said.
Dahlia Simpson was fired after pushing back against a desk manager who declared his affection and rubbed her shoulders in public.
And Nordia Barrett recalls abandoning her desire to join the Jamaica Constabulary Force after a cop whispered that he wanted to go down on her.
These allegations from a handful of women are among an estimated thousands of sexual harassment cases nationwide and have added fuel to the fire of outrage against Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who, last Thursday, said that he would not support claims being filed more than a year after an offence.
Chuck’s chuckling dismissal of #MeToo, a three-year-old global movement hatched in the United States that has called sexual harassers to book for decades of exploitation, has stoked a social media firestorm here in Jamaica. He made the comment during a sitting of a joint select committee of Parliament discussing proposed sexual harassment legislation.
The minister apologised, in the third person, on Saturday.
But gender specialists like Judith Wedderburn and Linnette Vassell haven’t found any humour in Chuck’s remarks.
While not joining calls for the minister to resign, Wedderburn said that he should demonstrate true contrition by going back to Parliament to advocate for a minimum of six years for persons who have suffered sexual harassment to come forward with complaints.
“He knows what to do to get the process running and get it through Parliament in the shortest possible time. He needs to demonstrate that we need to take his apology seriously,” Wedderburn told The Gleaner.
“Otherwise, that would mean that as a minister of justice, we would not know what to expect.”
Wedderburn said that women were often made to feel guilty for attracting unwelcome attention. She also alluded to the 2019 expose at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts where a male professor was accused of being a serial harasser but went without sanction from administrators for years. He was sent on administrative leave last year.
Wedderburn said that Chuck’s statement last Thursday was unacceptable and displayed tone deafness to the trauma women faced daily.
“When I first read it, I had to read it a second time. It was totally disrespectful to the thousands of Jamaican women who have been abused over the years and have not been able to get over the trauma,” she said.
Vassell said, in a letter to the editor, that Chuck showed that he would not stand in defence of victims of sexual harassment.
“I heard no empathy with or understanding of the insecurity, fear, stress, and shame that unwelcome physical touching, verbal taunting , subtle and obvious pressure for unwelcome sexual activities and other forms of harassment can have over a long period on the physical, mental, and emotional health of victims/survivors, in most cases women,” she wrote.