The Issue Explained: How legislation could combat sexual harassment

The Sexual Harassment Bill 2012 sought to address some of the issues experienced by women, and in some cases men, in the Cayman community.

Similar legislation has been used effectively in other jurisdictions. Here we look at how the law would work.

What is the origin of the Sexual Harassment Bill?

The Business and Professional Women’s Club set up a task force in 2005 to look specifically at possible legislative changes to address stalking and sexual harassment in the Cayman Islands.

They concluded there was a need for comprehensive laws on both issues.

The Law Reform Commission used the research of the BPW as well as a 2008 report from a Special Advisory Committee on Gender Violence to help draft the Stalking Bill and the Sexual Harassment Bill.

The stalking legislation passed in 2018, the Sexual Harassment Bill is still in draft but could come to parliament any time government decides to advance it.

What would the law achieve?

The law had four main goals.

* Create a legal definition of what sexual harassment actually is

* Create a civil offense of sexual harassment which would allow victims to bring action against their alleged perpetrator

* Compel employers and other institutions to have policies, procedures and clear consequences for sexual harassment

* Create a tribunal that could investigate complaints and award compensation

Would it make sexual harassment a crime?

The bill did not intend to create a criminal offense of sexual harassment.

Its aim was to create a structure of accountability that protected people from harassment and established a clear system to get recourse, either financially or through reinstatement of employment, for example.

If passed, it would make it mandatory for businesses and other institutions to have policies and procedures to protect workers from sexual harassment and to ensure there is no victimizing of anyone who complains.

The law didn’t simply address employment situations. It also covered schools, social clubs and landlord/tenant relationships among other scenarios.

How does the law define sexual harassment?

Broadly the Law Reform Commission defined sexual harassment as “unwanted and unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” directed to another person.

The bill itself cites specific examples including unwelcome sexual comments and gestures, unwelcome requests for sexual favors and unwelcome sexual comments about an individual.

Who would adjudicate complaints?

The initial draft bill created scope for a five-person Sexual Harassment Tribunal that could hear complaints and adjudicate.

It would be made up of at least one attorney, as chair person, and four other members qualified in related fields. A later version of the bill suggested the Gender Equality Tribunal could absorb this function into its broader remit.

What penalties exist?

The law envisaged a broad range of possible penalties from a simple instruction not to repeat the behavior to a fine of up to $20,000 in more serious cases.

The tribunal also would have the power to compel employers to take action.

What about more serious behavior?

Some of the cases highlighted by Compass readers as part of our series spill over from sexual harassment into criminal abuse. There are existing laws that cover more serious unwanted sexual conduct, including stalking and abuse.

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