Calls are growing for lawmakers to set at least a six-year deadline for the reporting of sexual harassment.
Pressure is mounting in the wake of Justice Minister Delroy Chuck’s jocular dismissal of harassment reports beyond 12 months of the offence happening. The minister also insisted that he did not want the #MeToo to reprise, in Jamaica, its global shaming and prosecution of abusers for even decades-old abuse.
Chuck, who was addressing a joint select committee reviewing proposed sex harassment legislation last Thursday, apologised after public backlash.
Immediate past president of the Jamaica Council of Churches, the Rev Merlyn Hyde Riley, believes victims should not be time-barred from exposing perpetrators of harassment, similarly to sexual crimes like rape. But if a limit has to be imposed, a six-year timeline should be considered – in line with the general time frame for common civil claims.
“Everyone should be able to tell their story, and some stories take a much longer time to be told, especially when it comes out of an experience of dehumanisation, exploitation, oppression and pain,” said Hyde Riley, who is also a gender specialist.
“So much gets deeply buried, sometimes coming to the surface, becoming exposed only after many years, as a result of the culture of silence, victim blaming and threats of ‘don’t tell’. … A delayed voice is not a less authentic voice,” she added.
Hyde Riley said that Chuck has inadvertently highlighted how legislation could be an important tool in dismantling patriarchal structures and institutions that empower those who oppress women. She also wants compulsory gender sensitisation training for all elected officials in Jamaica.
Human-rights lobby Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) also wants lawmakers to rethink a 12-month limit for sexual harassment reports.
“It’s a simple fix that would especially help vulnerable victims such as children, medical or psychiatric patients, persons in prisons, and those with mental or physical disabilities,” said JFJ Executive Director Rodje Malcolm.
The organisation would also prefer no timeline on harassment reports but agrees that six years should be the minimum.
“We generally believe that if credible evidence exists, the mere lapse of time should not close the door on pursuing cases,” said Malcolm.
“For comparison, if someone, for example, damages your motor vehicle, they would have six years to pursue the matter in court, but if someone sexually harasses you, you should have less? We can do better than that,” he said.