Sexual harassment: An action plan for a better Cayman

Over the past month, the Cayman Compass has shone a light on the issue of sexual harassment in these islands.

While we wanted to highlight the extent of the problem, we have also tried to look for constructive solutions. You stepped forward in droves to tell your stories and to offer suggestions. Today, we highlight some of the best ideas from our series and from our readers, for how we could improve the situation for men and women in the Cayman Islands.

Define the problem

Tackling sexual harassment is difficult, in part, because opinions vary on how it should be defined.

Reader Bruce Smith wrote, “There needs to be a clear and unambiguous definition of sexual harassment that can be used to provide awareness training across the islands. The last time I observed a group of people talking about sexual harassment everyone in the group seemed to have their own definition.”

There is no legal definition of sexual harassment in Cayman. Legislation on the issue, that has remained in draft form since 2012, includes a broad definition of “unwanted and unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature” directed towards another person.

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The issue needs an advocate

Numerous victims of sexual harassment told us they did not know where to turn for help.

Non-profits like the Crisis Centre provide a solid support network for anyone suffering through domestic violence; the Red Cross and others advocate for and assist victims of sexual abuse; and the police are there to investigate allegations of sexual assault and stalking. But there is no one agency that provides support, advice and resources to people who have experienced sexual harassment in the Cayman Islands.

Mandatory workplace policies

While many businesses have policies on sexual harassment, too many do not. A large proportion of the complaints highlighted by Compass readers involved workplace situations – bosses that promised promotions on the basis of sexual relationships, workers that were threatened with reprisals for reporting inappropriate behaviour, permissive cultures of casual sexism and bullying in some offices.

The Sexual Harassment Bill 2012, if passed into law, would make it mandatory for employers to have policies and regular training for staff.

A forum for anonymous reporting

One of the reasons the Compass got so many comments on this series was that we allowed people to report anonymously. Many victims said they feared for their lives and their jobs, if their identities were known.

Reader Esther Rivers, writing on the Compass Facebook page, argued that women should not feel compelled to leave a job because of the behaviour of other employees.

“Clear and confidential reporting channels to remove predators from the work place would be better. Remove the problem, not the victims.”

A tribunal to adjudicate disputes

Another idea, straight from the pages of the draft bill, mandates the concept of an impartial tribunal that could assess and adjudicate complaints of sexual harassment and provide justice for victims. The tribunal, as envisaged by the bill, would have the ability to compel employers to take action and to award compensation to people who had been mistreated.

Education in schools

In today’s edition, young people tell us they were never taught about healthy relationships and received very little sex education in schools.

The Red Cross argues that teaching children about consent and personal empowerment in an age-appropriate way is essential to addressing the issue later in life.

Aleigha General, a Cayman Islands student, wrote to the Compass, suggesting, “I believe curbing the predatory behaviour written about in your article can only begin with teaching our young people about bodily autonomy, enthusiastic consent and healthy boundaries. We are told over and over again that we are the future but many parents don’t want to accept the fact that this issue needs to also be addressed within that preparation for the future.”

We invited her to expand on her argument in a guest column.

A change in attitude

Not everything can be solved through policy or legislation. Several readers said they did not get support from family, friends, peers or the wider community when they spoke out. They felt their stories were not believed or the perpetrator was supported because of their work performance or social standing.

False reporting of sexual assault and related offences is statistically no more prevalent than false reporting of burglary or any other crime, yet many victims felt they were not believed.

Reader Naomi Johanatty argues that we all need to do a better job of holding perpetrators to account.

“Standing up for victims should be a community effort. Abusers dislike their behaviours being exposed and then the victim experiences more retribution, but if the abuser is accountable to the community, they can no longer victimise,” she wrote.

Zero tolerance in bars

The impact of alcohol was a constant theme in the stories shared with the Compass.

One of the accounts that garnered the most public response was our interviews with female bartenders who said they were groped, offered money for sex and insulted on a nightly basis.

Reader Floyd Moxam, a male bartender and bouncer, suggests it is not just women who are impacted.

“I can’t count the amount of times women have said something inappropriate or grabbed me without my permission,” he wrote on our Facebook page.

“As men, we are supposed to stand there and act like it’s ok. This goes both ways and is part of the industry culture here. It’s disgusting and needs to stop.”

Melford Hill, a Caymanian who managed a bar here, said women were constantly being sexually harassed, in some cases with the knowledge and encouragement of bar managers.

He argues for a zero-tolerance approach and regulations attached to the licensing of bars.

He believes all bars should be required to have prominently placed, clearly visible signs in Spanish and English, warning customers that it is a crime to “insult the modesty of a woman”.

Hill argues that expat bartenders should be made aware of their rights and how to report abuses as part of the work-permit process.

Keeping the spotlight on stories

Perhaps the most impactful element of this series was the real stories of Cayman Islands’ residents who answered our survey to reveal – in some cases for the first time – the harassment and abuse they had suffered. Several readers felt such stories had been taboo in Cayman for too long.

Reader Lauren Moore wrote, “Thank you to those who have been brave enough to share their stories. These stories are far too common and it’s time to shine a light on this.”

Markita Kimberly Ebanks agreed, writing, “Ask any room of females here and I’d dare say the majority of us have experienced something similar to at least one of those. Who knows, maybe males too. The hush-hush culture HAS TO END.”

Others felt it was instructive for men to hear the stories – which were largely, but not exclusively, from female victims – and honestly reflect on their own behaviour.

“All men should read this article and realise every one of them has done at least one of these behaviours. Fathers take heed and teach your sons to be better,” wrote Shân Stephenson.

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