Sun | Sep 20, 2020

Letter of the Day | Perfect opportunity to change sexual harassment mindset

Published:Thursday | July 2, 2020 | 12:24 AM


IT IS no secret that women who are sexually harassed or assaulted do not always report these crimes as soon as they happen, for multiple reasons. In fact, many women do not develop the strength or the right empowerment positionality to feel the mental and physical safety necessary to speak on/report these issues until years later. This is not a Jamaica thing; this is a global thing. Most will agree that the matter of reporting sexual crimes is a very complex one. Bearing in mind the complex nature of the issue, it is very critical, in our Jamaican context, for appropriate sanctions to be put in place to protect victims.

Sadly, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck’s misplaced chuckle is an indicator of how sexual-assault victims have been viewed and treated not just in Jamaica but on a global scale. There are many problematic people in positions of power, who share the view that a year is enough time for a person (mostly women) to come forward and report, without any thought to the woman’s context. For example, the woman’s positionality in relation to the perpetrator: do they live together or is her immediate supervisor who is responsible for her pay cheque, or is he the don of the area who will have her killed if she speaks? The collective silence and nods of approval are what we are used to, but it is now time to change that narrative.

Power disparity

Complicity is responsible for chuckles and collective silence and nods of approval. Complicity makes people with the power to make a difference problematic. Even when they know the right thing to do or say or/and do, they do not (and I dare to say) for probably similar reasons that the sexual assault victims suffer – power imbalance – power disparity – lack of empowerment. Complicity is the beast that instructs certain women in politics into making certain assertions about there being “limitations right across the world” instead of encouraging a system that changes the Jamaican narrative.

Many are of the opinion that if you say or show how you truly feel, then perform a perfectly designed apology, then we go back to the way we were. Not this time around. The current environment of general inequality and gender disparity has created a fire in people that aches for fundamental change. However, instead of cancelling the minister, we should use the opportunity to educate everyone who has maintained a similar posture. While the rewards of the ‘cancel culture’ are immediate and gratifying (Henderson 2019), to cancel Minister Chuck certainly will not help in offering the level of awareness that is required of all government officials to ensure that its people, specifically women and girls, are offered the best solution when it comes to sexual-harassment issues or any other gender-based violence issues.

The current Government and opposing party are encouraged to accept Dr Adisa Palmer’s offer to provide training that will encourage permanent change. We cannot effect real changes if we do not seek to address them in a real and long-term way. We need to chop and prune the mindset of many to make way for new thoughts. To do otherwise would be a failed opportunity of the Jamaican Government to achieve the related Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (5, 10, 11 & 16). Thus, as part of a larger commitment to the SGD, everyone involved should be open to participating in that which will facilitate systemic internal soul-searching, which will ultimately fix a system that would chuckle at the thought that a woman may need more time than 12 months to report what she deems a traumatic and life-altering experience.