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Not Condemning: Legislation alone will not stop sexual predators in their tracks

It is not enough to promise, as the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (GoRTT) has just done, sexual harassment legislation; legislation alone will certainly not solve the problem and not simply because in Trinidad and Tobago the effective law is what you can get away with.

Between now and when the government delivers on its promise of legislation—if the government delivers on that promise—several women will be sexually harassed by men who are confident that nothing will be done; in the public and the private sectors, the indiscipline, the exploitation, the abuse will continue.

Photo: Sexual harassment affects not just bodies but minds as well

Those who are in the Public Service and are senior enough will now be comforted by the precedent that their victim(s) can be paid off—with public funds, taxpayers’ money—and maybe even bullied into signing non-disclosure agreements. Precedent is a powerful thing in a country where the effective law is what you can get away with.

Those whose victim(s) work(s) in a State enterprise or at a company where the GoRTT is a major shareholder will be comforted by the precedent that the company might spend more than TT$3.5m to defend the harasser, especially if (s)he is Chairman. And there is always the additional possibility that someone will orchestrate the firing of the victim, who dared to become a complainant.

All of that notwithstanding, if there is legislation and a clear policy, that will create the opening for a free and frank national conversation that can clarify expectations and define expected behaviours. It will also provide several women with the psychological security and the peace of mind that come from knowing that, even if we can’t avoid future face-to-face encounters with the worse kind of predator, someone in authority has our back.

Finally, it will help men and women refine the language needed to compliment without offending.

But the recent announcement by Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy simply does not inspire confidence that either satisfactory legislation or satisfactory policy will emerge soon. What I have seen of the document out of which, I assume, the announced policy is to come simply does not pass muster.

Photo: Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister (Gender and Child Affairs) Ayanna Webster-Roy.
(Copyright News.gov.tt)

Here is a sampling of the gobbledegook that is currently floating around:

“Various support services such as the Employee Assistance Programme are available for victims or complainants.”

“National Policy on Gender and Development has been laid in the Parliament as a Green Paper for further comment.”

‘The policy document clearly highlighted the importance of the development of a Gender Just Society to attaining our Vision 2030 goals.”

“Sexual harassment could lead to a hostile work environment and can make the victim feel humiliated or intimidated. Therefore, all employees must conduct themselves in an appropriate manner.”

 Really, Madam Minister? Do you really think that stuff will cut it? I say that it won’t. I say generously that we would need all the refining capability of Petrotrin, Petrobras and PDVSA combined—and then some!—to be able to begin to transform that anodyne stuff into anything with the kind of oomph we shall need if we are to slow the advance of this sexual harassment juggernaut.

So if the Minister wishes us to take her announcement about action on sexual harassment seriously, her first step has to be advising her Cabinet colleagues to remove the Chairman of Angostura. She can do that tomorrow.

Photo: The Hand of God? Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs Darryl Smith (right) takes a hands-on approach with a then staff member.

Tomorrow will be too soon to move against the former minister of sport and youth affairs, who must still benefit from the presumption of innocence. But once the all-female committee has reported and the facts are in the public domain, if the ex-minister’s name is not cleared, the Minister of Gender Affairs must throw the book at him. Publicly.

That is how we shall know that she means business, not merely because she announces that legislation is coming.

I also invite the Minister to keep both the former minister of sport and youth affairs and the Government-appointed chairman of Angostura firmly in her sights and ask herself the following questions: What protection do alleged victims currently enjoy? What is likely to happen if an alleged victim goes to the Equal Opportunities Commission for redress? What are the resources an alleged victim must have at his/her disposal in order to be able to put up any kind of fight against the GoRTT, which has such a vast quantity of resources?

But the real question that the Minister must answer to give context to any talk about legislation is this: Are there any laws that will help if Government is going to use taxpayers’ money to fight taxpaying citizens and/or to pay off victims?

Not condemning, just commenting.

Photo: Angostura chairman and former senator Rolph Balgobin.
(Courtesy Winston Garth Murrell)

Editor’s note: The Sunday Express of April 15 reported that Angostura has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the author—Fixin T&T’s Kirk Waithe got one too—“demanding that she cease publishing defamatory remarks about the company and seeking to influence its distributors.”

About Dennise Demming

Dennise Demming
Dennise Demming is an Adjunct Faculty Member at UWI, Media and Communications Strategist, TEDxPOS organiser and co-licensee for TEDxPortofSpain and Chairman of the Board at TTTHTI. Dennise, who grew up in East POS, also has a Business MBA and B.Sc. in Political Science & Public Administration and Mass Communications from UWI.

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18 comments

  1. In addition, employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for all employees and that includes safety from sexual harassment.

  2. We speak about sexual harassment in the workplace but no talk about a dress code. Do some women by their mode of dress encourage “sexual harassment” ?

    • Are you saying then that you and all men are implicitly incapable of self control?

    • No ! How far “you” push the envelope is the issue !

    • Douglas what exactly sets you off? The sight of skin? Snug clothes?
      Do you have to lock yourself in a cellar over the carnival weekend? Are your loved ones able to take you to the beach without fear that you might sexually assault someone?
      Are you forced to work from home?
      How deep is your affliction?
      I think it is commendable that you can self-diagnose yourself btw. And I’m sure you’re taking steps to keep the female workforce safe from your desires. ✊?

    • And this is why legislation alone won’t stop sexual harassment.

    • Latoya Hart. It will help though. Policies will put the values of the company in writing plain and clear. It would be good if businesses led the way and didn’t wait for legislation.

    • What pre-historic era did you crawl out from?? No matter what a woman wears, it’s not your business, unless she’s your wife or daughter.

    • A woman / man could be walking about naked… but that does not give anyone the right to touch far less rape them.

    • Most people would agree that they don’t want their loved ones male or female to be uncomfortable in their workplace. This is something I just found on the net.
      http://knowtheline.humanrights.gov.au/

    • ..Douglas you looking for trouble. Fact is, though, that as necessary as legislation may be, work place sexual predators -male and female – will continue with their goings on. Education of both sexes is the only way this problem could be controlled, but it will never be eliminated..

    • Keith Look Loy True. Bur less will be good. Ey?

    • Maybe those who are so critical of my observation would reconsider your comments differently when the manner of dress of your wife or daughter refuses to dress “appropriately” for the workplace and of course when they bring home a “friend” with his pants fitted along the rim of his ass……batty man style.

    • Douglas I want to ask you what anything you said has to do with sexual harassment at the workplace.
      But I fear you’re already off the reservation as far as this topic goes. I don’t want to follow you there.
      I’d rather engage you if you stick to the topic.

    • Jo Ann, yes, I agree it will help. I’m just looking at attitudes like Douglas’s here- as long as men feel entitled to women’s bodies, no amount of legislation would stop sexual harassment. Because that entitlement is the only reason why a woman’s attire would lead to sexual harassment. You see, and instead of just watching, you want to touch as well. Dress codes are important for work and school, but someone who contravenes a dress code and dresses “inappropriately” (a very subjective measure) doesn’t lose their right to body autonomy and to not be harassed.

    • Are you suggesting that men are being sexually harassed by some women and what they wear? Interesting idea. Are you suggesting that what women wear deliberately or inadvertently, communicates desire for sex, or sexual arousal? Then you would have to look at male mammals natural responses to sexual stimuli from females pre-modern era. And then look at lipstick, blush, foundation, eye liner etc to see if they mimic female sexual availability, arousal etc. I imagine you would also look at clothing and what they reveal or not reveal about sexual health, availability, child bearing ability etc. I suppose very high heels and how it aligns a woman’s body would be of interest also. Then a comparison of that and what obtains in the natural world, (animal kingdom included). This would involve the objective use of biology. Perhaps a search on the science of makeup is worth a start.

  3. I have to say, the writer of this article sounds very naive. There are several reasons why I say this:

    1) Unless there is some form of physical abuse or physical act, situations involving sexual harassment are usually ‘he said/she said’ in nature. Not much can be done unless the investigation finds evidence.

    2) There are already laws against unwanted sex acts… i.e rape laws, assault, battery etc.

    3) Usually, in sexual harassment cases, the matter is not a criminal one, as per point 1 above, but rather a civil one. So it is up to the victim to take legal action.

    4) In cases where the act(s) creep into the criminal, the failure usually lies in the investigation. Either by the company or the police.

    I agree that laws can be made better, more rigorous and better worded. But there isn’t much that can be done about enforcement if the Government isn’t willing to put its political crotch in a vulnerable position and take firm steps with making the police an effective unit.

    The writer engages in speculation and innuendo to push an agenda against two individuals. I am not defending those persons, but the writer ought to make concrete arguments about strengthening the protections in the workplace and view the entire problem before pointing out two persons who are merely part of the whole – consider them symptoms of the decay. Can’t fix the whole ‘house’ from falling down by looking at two nails.

    So here is MY suggestion. Put the onus on the companies to have policies in place to cover sexual harassment, health and safety etc. Different policies for different purposes. One Act can cover the change.

    In cases of complaint, let the companies take the fall if they did not follow exactly their own policies. In other words, the companies have the burden of proof to show it did all it can to protect the victim, disciplined the accused, and kept to the letter of the law, natural justice and statutory laws etc, etc. The starting point is that the company has to show under penalty of the law that it has an appropriate written policy in place and that ALL the employees are trained in the various policies.

    Failing that, the company is responsible for damages, both civil and criminal. The burden becomes the company’s to provide a safe work environment, take steps when that policy is breached, and responsible for making things rights. Effectively, it has to police itself.