A taskforce looking into sexual harassment and stalking in the Cayman Islands is warning that existing legislation does not provide adequate protection to victims.
With nearly 90 per cent of respondents to a recent survey reporting that they had been subject to either sexual harassment or stalking, the taskforce is calling for more effective legislation to be adopted.
Taskforce member Stephen Watler, a lawyer with Maples and Calder, says the Cayman Islands lags behind other Caribbean and Commonwealth jurisdictions when it comes to legislating against sexual harassment and stalking.
The Sexual Harassment and Stalking Taskforce was convened in 2005 by the Business Professional Women’s Club and now boasts a range of young professionals in Cayman that are all working together, on a voluntary basis, to bring attention to the issue.
Taskforce Chair Joanna Bodden Small said a survey initiated by the taskforce in August 2006 found a large majority of respondents supported the introduction of legislation protecting people against sexual harassment and stalking.
Of 637 respondents, 301 reported having had at least one stalking experience, and 270 people had been the subject of at least one sexual harassment experience.
Speaking Wednesday on Rooster 101FM’s Cayman Crosstalk, Mr. Watler asked why the same cutting edge approach to financial regulation could not be applied to the local criminal and civil justice system to protect the rights and liberties of individuals in the Cayman Islands.
A recent review of legislation exposed a number of inadequacies when it came to stalking and sexual harassment, Mr. Watler explained.
Some of the problems the taskforce identified included:
• Little to no recognition of sexual harassment or stalking under the Penal Code;
• Restraining orders or injunctions are only available to married persons, co-habitees and children of the family, and are further limited in when they can be applied;
• There are only limited remedies available for victims, and no right to financial compensation, even when such offences result in the loss of work and/or wages for the victim;
• A lack of case law makes it unclear whether some laws extend to cover sexual harassment;
• The cost, time, difficulty and uncertainty involved with bringing a case stops many victims from pursuing justice, particularly when no clear right of action exists under the legislation;
In certain cases, victims have no means of protection if authorities do not prosecute the offender.
‘Trying to match a specific law with an act of sexual harassment or stalking is like trying to fix a square peg in a round hole,’ Mr. Watler lamented. ‘It can be very time consuming and result in no real outcome.
‘The purpose of the taskforce is to provide legislative recommendations, which, if enacted, will afford victims of sexual harassment and stalking adequate protection under the law.’
Mrs. Bodden Small said informal discussions with various government ministers had so far proved encouraging.
‘Certainly, they are watching our progress and we have our fingers crossed, but, so far, so good.’
The taskforce will host educational forums for the public this month bringing together RCIPS officers, lawyers, councilors and other experts who are at the front line of dealing with sexual harassment and stalking.
‘We really do want as much public feedback as possible about how we can help the public,’ Mrs. Bodden Small said.
The educational forums will take place 22 August, Johnny Cumber Hall, West Bay, from 6 to 9pm and on 29 August, Seafarer’s Association Hall, Prospect, from 6 to 9pm.
Top 7 unwanted and/or uninvited behaviors being experienced in the Cayman Islands, according to the taskforce survey:
1: Being the target of sexually aggressive comments, gestures or looks;
2: Repeatedly being pressured for dates or a romantic relationship;
3: Being the target of suggestive stories and rumors;
4: Receiving letters, phone calls, emails and/or text messages;
5: Being touched in a sexual way;
6: Being followed and/or watched;
7: Being pressured for sexual acts.