Cayman may have a ready-made solution to some of the sexual-harassment concerns highlighted in a Compass special report over the past month, in the form of a draft law that has been on the books for nearly a decade.
The Sexual Harassment Bill, if passed, would make it mandatory for employers to have internal policies to tackle harassment and create clear pathways for victims in all walks of life to report abuse and get justice.
Work on the legislation began in 2005; the bill was published by the Law Reform Commission in 2012 but was never passed.
The draft law was a culmination of a multi-year research project and advocacy campaign from the Young Business and Professional Women’s Club.
The group still supports the recommendations made by its Sexual Harassment and Stalking Task Force and is encouraging the new government to consider passing the bill.
“It is time for the hard work of the task force and the Law Reform Commission to be recognised and the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2012 to be enacted into law in the Cayman Islands,” said Cheryl Myles, chair of the community affairs committee of the Business & Professional Women’s Club.
“The task force was comprised of a cross-section of legal and policy advisors, medical professional, HR professionals and interested persons. Their research and recommendations are equally valid today. The same is true for the legislative work of the Law Reform Commission,” she added.
No recourse for victims
In many of the stories highlighted by the Compass in our month-long #isshesupported? series, victims of sexual harassment said they felt as if they had no recourse and no power to put a stop to unwanted sexual behaviour. There was no one to report to and no confidence that their stories would be believed or that the issue would be addressed.
While 90% of people who responded to our anonymous survey said they had faced some form of sexual harassment, fewer than half said they had reported it.
Of those that did report sexual harassment, over 80% said they were not satisfied with the response and a third said they had faced negative consequences as a result.
Myles explained that this was a common dynamic that the bill sought to address.
“We are supportive of the legislation being put in place because it will provide victims a way to report what is happening to them and allow for the issue to be remedied,” she said.
“We have all heard of someone who has tried to report that they have been victimised by sexual harassment and ended up getting nowhere or worse, having it turned against them. The sexual harassment law will change that and will go a long way towards giving victims a voice that will be heard and acted upon to rectify the situation.”
The bill included provision for a Sexual Harassment Tribunal which would be empowered to adjudicate complaints. It also aimed to introduce protections that would allow people to speak up without fear of repercussions.
Work began in 2005
The wider issue of sexual harassment and stalking has been on the radar of the Business and Professional Women’s Club for decades. The group’s youth arm established a task force to investigate and assess possible legislative changes in 2005.
Support for change was accelerated in the wave of activism that followed the killing of Estella Scott-Roberts, the founder and director of the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, in 2008. Scott-Roberts, a vocal advocate for ending gender-based violence, was raped and murdered in a crime that shocked Cayman.
A number of laws were subsequently enacted, including the Gender Equality Law and the Stalking Law, 2018. It is not clear why the sexual-harassment legislation was never passed.
“Every few years, BPW has lobbied the government to pass the sexual-harassment legislation,” said Myles. “We do not believe that there is any particular reason why it has sat on the backburner for so many years.
“The government has had many other challenges that simply took priority.”
Myles said the group was concerned that sexual harassment, while reprehensible in its own right, could lead to more serious crimes such as sexual assault, rape and worse, if it is left unchecked. “Prevention is just as important, if not more important, than punishing perpetrators,” she said.
The BPW also advocates for education, particularly for young people.
“It is important to teach boys and girls from an early age about proper boundaries and respecting each other,” added Myles. “Having a law in place that defines what sexual harassment is and criminalises the behaviour is a powerful teaching tool. It allows us to clearly articulate to our young people what will not be tolerated and work towards eradicating that behaviour from our schools, workplaces, churches and community as a whole.”