On an almost-daily basis female bartenders in Grand Cayman say they are harassed, groped and offered money for sex by male customers.
There is a culture of sexual harassment in certain bars that needs to stop, according to three women who spoke to the Compass on condition of anonymity. We have changed their names in this article to protect their identity.
“If I’m your server, if I’m your bartender… that’s it,” said Janis, who still works as a server in a popular local bar.
“A lot of people, especially men, they come here [in the bar] and offer you certain [amounts] of money for sex, for things and I’m like… why?, why?”
For women like Janis, the service industry can be lucrative with good tips. But it comes with its drawbacks, especially when customers are particularly generous.
“Some customers when they come to the bar, they think that because they tip you … you have to be touched. Like they need to touch you,” she said.
Kate, another bartender at the same bar, said the harassment sometimes gets to the point of violence and security has to step in.
She recounted one of her experiences when she first came to Cayman, several years ago, when a man got ‘handsy’ and disrespectful with her.
“One of them say to me … ‘You know I want to eat your p****.’ So, I give him two box… one on the right and one on the left. He makes like a reaction to hit me, and I said to him… ‘If you hit me, I will mash up your head. One of us will go to hospital and one will go to prison,’” she said.
Another man, she said, came up to her and offered her $500 to sleep with him.
“I told him ‘No, you coming to the wrong person, you make a mistake’; since that I do not get disrespect, I am sure they respect me,” she said.
Alcohol fuels bad behaviour
Kate said she believes alcohol is the root of the problem as some men are initially quite respectful but change as the drinking continues.
“Sometimes some people just cannot handle their alcohol,” she said.
“While they having enough and not plenty drinks it’s okay. But so long as they pass their limit that’s when some of them start with their foolishness.”
She added that sometimes the way women dress in bars and pubs also attracts the wrong kind of attention, but that still does not make it acceptable for men to sexually harass them.
There are more than 5,000 women working in the service industry in Cayman, according to government labour force statistics. Many of them are from overseas, on work permits, and vulnerable to harassment. Open solicitation from customers for sex is common, according to the women we interviewed.
Alisha, another server who spoke with the Compass through an interpreter, said people seem to think women who work in bars are prostitutes. She says there are some servers that accept money for sex, but that is not true of most of them.
“I come to work at the bar. I do not come to prostitute myself. Many do it because they want to, but that depends on you. If you do it is because you want to or not,” she said.
She said she had some good and bad experiences but there are customers who want to go beyond normal conversation.
“When they greet you, they want to touch you. Sometimes they call you to offer you money for sex,” she said.
Alisha said she had met some good men who advise her to work hard at her job and take advantage of the opportunity to work here in the Cayman Islands.
“Some are friendly and decent,” she said, adding that there are some who have ulterior motives.
‘We are not prostitutes’
Alisha said she would like people to recognise that women who work in the service industry are not prostitutes.
When she first arrived on island, she said she was harassed a lot “because you don’t know anyone and that’s the way it is”.
She said women should be treated with respect and not judged by where they work.
Janis said she recently had to slap a customer who grabbed her buttocks.
“He almost tried to hit me and because he literally noticed that there was a lot of people there in the bar [he didn’t do anything]. I say.. ‘Yeah, you try to hit me back and you will see I’m going to call the police’ because he cannot do that. You cannot touch me. I’m not your property. You cannot touch me,” she said.
Janis said she wants men to know that just because she smiles with them or talks with them that is not an invitation to molest or harass her or any other female bartender.
“It doesn’t need to go that far,” she said, adding that they would like to feel comfortable in their work environment.
Throughout June, the Cayman Compass Issues section is shining a light on the problem of sexual harassment in Cayman. We are providing a forum for women and men impacted by the issue to tell their stories, and examining possible solutions to make the islands a safer place to live and work. Join the conversation at www.caymancompass.com/issues/ or email Issues Editor James Whittaker on [email protected]