WARNING: READERS MAY FIND THE CONTENT IN THIS ARTICLE DISTURBING
Sexual harassment is both extremely common and chronically underreported in the Cayman Islands, the findings of a Cayman Compass project suggest.
An anonymous survey on the issue attracted more than 160 responses in just a couple of days.
Around 90% of those who responded said they had faced some form of inappropriate sexual conduct in Cayman.
Reports ranged from frequent cat-calling while jogging or walking the dog to serious sexual assault and even rape.
Harassment in the workplace, including sexual propositions from bosses or managers, was also a common complaint.
Several women said they were made to feel as if their career success depended on how they responded in those situations.
Others said they felt uncomfortable at work because of crude comments, stories and unwanted advances. When they complained, the behaviour was dismissed as a joke. Several men also said they had been sexually harassed at work by female colleagues.
Some women reported being groped in clubs and bars. In some cases this extended to being sexually assaulted when they were drunk or otherwise incapacitated.
A common complaint, among the many stories, was of men sending unsolicited graphic images of themselves.
A smaller number of women told harrowing stories of being sexually abused as children.
The stories – some of them published here – suggest many in Cayman, principally women, are quietly enduring a wide range of inappropriate and unwanted behaviour.
Carolina Ferreira, deputy director of the Cayman Islands Red Cross, said sexual harassment and sexual abuse have been unspoken secrets for too long.
“Cayman is long overdue for a #metoo-style reckoning, and it is one that would shake our country to the core if the victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault and sexual abuse were empowered enough to come forward to speak of their experiences,” said Ferreira, who is also the sexuality and education officer for the organisation.
Sexual harassment underreported
The findings of our survey, carried out over a few days last week, provide only a snapshot of the types of behaviour that are prevalent in Cayman.
Of the 161 people who responded – including 136 women – 144 said they had faced some form of sexual harassment. The remainder said they had either witnessed it or just hadn’t experienced it firsthand.
The overwhelming majority of those impacted – nearly 60% – said they had not reported the incident. Around 15% had told their employer, in the case of work-related incidents, and one in 20 reported it to the police.
Less than 15% of those that did make a report were satisfied with how the complaint was handled and a third of those that responded said they were the ones that faced consequences.
The majority of respondents – 57% – were Caymanian.
More details of the survey responses can be seen on these pages and on our website.
While our research is not scientific, it hints at a large, unspoken problem in Cayman.
There are no official statistics on sexual harassment for the islands and it is not a criminal offence in itself, though many of the types of behaviour described in our survey could be classified as crimes under a variety of existing laws.
Equally, there is no one group – no agency, non-profit or investigatory body – that has ownership of the issue.
It is not exclusively a police issue, a domestic violence issue, a gender equality issue or an employment issue.
It is something that crosses all those areas but does not fall neatly into any one category.
The push for reform
Over the past two decades, the Business and Professional Women’s Club has sought to fill that void.
A taskforce established by the group in 2005 carried out a representative survey and found that almost half of those who took part had faced stalking or sexual harassment.
The research by the group resulted in a series of recommendations including a specific stalking law, which was eventually passed in 2018 and a draft sexual harassment law, which has yet to be passed.
Later in this series, the Compass will report in more detail on the recommended legal framework for providing better support for women and men that face sexual harassment in Cayman.
The proposed law would include a definition of sexual harassment, require businesses and professional institutions to have policies and procedures for handling complaints and expand the functions of the Gender Equality Tribunal to allow it to deal with sexual harassment complaints.
In an overview of the bill, published in 2012, the Cayman Islands Law Reform Commission wrote, “Cultural perceptions, attitudes and justifications for sexual harassment… have contributed to a failure to understand and adequately respond to the problem.
“Consequently, many persons do not know how to report sexual harassment or from whom to seek assistance. As a result, the problem is usually ignored and not enough is done to address it, primarily because there is no comprehensive legislation or policy to respond to the issues.”
That bill has not yet been passed, however, and many victims of sexual harassment still feel they have no clear recourse to bring perpetrators to justice in Cayman.
Natalie Baldwin, co-president of the Young Business & Professional Women’s Club, which carried out the research that led to the bill, said the group remains steadfast in their support for the implementation of sexual harassment legislation in the Cayman Islands.
“It is impossible to estimate how prevalent the problem of sexual harassment is in our community because it generally goes unreported. We continue to hear stories however that make it undeniable that the problem still exists here,” she said.
“We believe that the legislative recommendations of the YBPW Sexual Harassment and Stalking Task Force are as equally relevant today as they were in 2007 when they were first released.
“We stand ready to work with government and other organisations to end tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace and beyond and to protect members of our community from this type of behaviour.”
Cheryl Myles, first vice president of the BPW, said the group was also pushing for education and awareness on the issues of sexual harassment, bullying and abuse.
“This is a stigma that needs to be addressed through island-wide campaigns using every possible method to educate everyone,” she said.
Time to end ‘culture of silence’
Ferreira, of the Red Cross, believes that sexual harassment is rife on the island and is symptomatic of a wider problem.
In a written interview with the Compass she argues that it is past time for the issue to be brought to light.
Ferreira argues that the profile of those responsible goes well beyond the stereotypes that many people have.
“The perpetrators are also politicians, civil servants, pastors, high ranking executives, partners at established firms, entertainers, police officers, and numerous others who have a public persona of dignity, trust and credibility,” she said.
She added that the Red Cross and other NGOs had been working for years to break the “culture of silence” around sexual abuse and related issues in Cayman.
Ferreira said harassment was linked to a slew of more serious issues.
“We have normalised sexual harassment so much that when we hear of something happening where the harassment was mostly verbal or which is seen to be as minimally physical the response is usually ‘well at least it wasn’t that bad’, as in anything short of sexual assault and rape doesn’t really ‘count’.
“Yet sexual harassment is absolutely harmful to those who experience it, and we know that victims of sexual harassment can suffer from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep disorders, and so many other mental and physical health ailments.”
Is she supported? Compass series tackles sexual harassment
For the month of June, the Cayman Compass will be tackling concerns about sexual harassment in the community. We have taken the popular #sheissupported hashtag and flipped it to ask how our laws, businesses and institutions protect, support and empower women.
- “I had to keep quiet because my life felt threatened”: Compass readers shine light on sexual harassment in Cayman
- Editorial: Time’s up for dealing with sexual harassment
- Survey: Sexual harassment in Cayman
We will examine the extent of the problem in Cayman when it comes to sexual harassment and a broad range of related issues. We will look at the impact it has on women, and in some cases men, both at work and in public life.
To be clear, this is not about McKeeva Bush or the well publicised incident that prompted the initial #sheissupported movement. It is about a range of issues that have been left unspoken and under reported for too long.
#isshesupported? examines the limitations of the framework in place to protect and promote women in Cayman; it aims to take #sheissupported from sentiment to substance.
We hope to spark an honest conversation and propose tangible solutions that can make our island a better and a safer place.
We welcome your input. Email our Issues Editor James Whittaker on [email protected] with your views, ideas or story suggestions.