As a young woman arriving in the Cayman Islands from overseas, Maria says she was naive and vulnerable to men who exploited her situation under the guise of friendship.
She told the Compass, in a telephone interview from her home country, she was sexually harassed when she first arrived and later assaulted by another man – a trusted and respected colleague at her workplace.
In both cases, the perpetrators were acquaintances from her own country who had offered her help and support as she acclimatised to life far from home in a different culture.
Maria (not her real name) shared her story on condition that we protect her identity.
The first case, she says, was comparatively minor. A colleague, who had given her lifts to and from work, began to get over-friendly.
“He would try to pull me in for a hug and he would say, ‘This is normal in Cayman.’”
When the behaviour started to occur in the workplace, she filed a complaint. But she says her allegations were put down to a misunderstanding and it was her, rather than the man, who faced consequences.
Work was difficult for a while but she says she dug in her heels and decided to stay. Things got easier when the man left Cayman but a bad taste still lingered from the way the complaint had been handled.
It felt like her bosses had just taken the man at his word without even looking into the situation.
“They could have been a little more supportive,” she added.
The second incident, some years later, involved a man who had been supportive after the first situation and who she believed was a friend.
By this time she was married and in a long-distance relationship with her husband. Her colleague had recently split up with his girlfriend and started to pursue her.
“He started making moves,” she said.
“I told him from the beginning I am married and I have boundaries, and he kept saying ‘Because your husband is not here I can fulfil your needs.’”
On one occasion, he came to her house late at night.
“This was a person I knew and trusted. When he came to my door the first time I opened it without knowing any better.”
She says they talked for a while and then he started to remove his clothes. She told him to stop and was eventually able to get him to leave.
On another occasion, he banged on the door late at night and she refused to let him in.
Later at a work social event, she says she had too much to drink and was in a vulnerable position. “He managed to get everybody else away, saying he would look after me,” she said.
“I was semiconscious and he took me home.”
It was then that she says she was sexually assaulted.
Though she considered going to the police, she felt like she didn’t have enough proof. Her earlier experience made her wary of reporting anything to HR.
After this, she believes, the man was emboldened.
On one occasion, she says, he came into her office when there was no one else around and told her, “I could rape you here on the table and no one would know.”
Maria confided in a colleague, but she says the man had a good reputation and was a ‘hero’ in the company.
“I felt like I had no supporters,” she said.
Her husband confronted the man but he denied anything had taken place and there was little he could do over the phone. When the pandemic hit, she decided to leave Cayman and returned home last year.
She believes the island is generally a fair and safe place, and that sexual harassment and abuse is a global problem.
“I just want people to be aware of what can happen even with people you trust and to try not to put themselves in a vulnerable position,” she added.
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]