Police believe sexual harassment is significantly under-reported in the Cayman Islands with just 13 offences recorded in the last year.
Though dozens of women, and some men, came forward to share stories as part of a Cayman Compass series on the issue, officers say it is relatively rare for these reports to reach the police.
That’s partly because some of the incidents are not criminal.
There is no specific offence within the Penal Code of sexual harassment, and inappropriate or unsettling behaviour such as cat-calling and unwanted advances wouldn’t always result in a call to the police.
There are a range of behaviours which would trigger a criminal investigation, however.
Sexual assaults are the most obvious serious criminal behaviour that falls within the police’s jurisdiction.
But lower-level behaviour, including inappropriate text messages and unwanted comments, can also be criminal.
A patchwork of supporting legislation covering stalking, insulting the modesty of a woman, causing fear or provocation of violence and intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress covers some of the behaviour often categorised as sexual harassment.
A police spokesperson said there had been just 13 reported crimes that fit the criteria for sexual harassment in the past year.
Those incidents included sexually suggestive comments made to women in public places and ‘sexual touching’ of female victims in public.
In most cases they were investigated under laws against insulting the modesty of a woman or causing harassment, alarm or distress.
Two of those incidents involved alcohol and two were classified as ‘cyber crimes’, police said.
“Anecdotally it would appear that there is significant under-reporting of crimes based on the current information RCIPS hold,” said police media officer Jodi-Ann Powery.
When sexual harassment reports are made to police, officers initially investigate whether the behaviour described meets the threshold for a crime.
If it doesn’t, the complainant is encouraged to seek legal advice or explore company policies as an alternative form of recourse.
If it does, it is investigated by police and, where possible, prosecuted.
“An escalating range of options is the most effective way to ensure that the behaviour isn’t repeated, and to show that there are consequences for such actions,” Powery added.
Police can use ‘warnings’ or ‘cautions’ in the first instance, escalating to prosecution and requests for restraining orders where necessary.