End the culture of silence
The year 2021 presents opportunities to speak up against abuse.
Offences from bullying, sexual harassment, grooming and revenge porn have undergone public scrutiny this past year. Legislation has been passed to provide better protection to those in Bermuda who regrettably fall victim to these unscrupulous acts.
The Minister of Labour, the Attorney-General and Members of Parliament passed further protections to existing laws, some of which still need to be considered by the Senate on January 13.
It's now an offence, under the Criminal Code Amendment Act 2020, to groom for sex any youth 18 years old or under. Our laws now extend the existing offence of online luring to include written and spoken communication.
Employers, under the Employment (No 2) Amendment Act, must have mandatory workplace anti-bullying and anti-sexual harassment policies in place, within six months of passage, and educate staff on the definition and consequences of these offences.
According to the Act:
- “bullying” means the habitual display of offensive behaviour intended to harm, intimidate, humiliate, undermine or coerce a person or group of employees and includes, but is not limited to, ostracising, ridiculing, shouting at, threatening, and verbally abusing a person or group of employees
- “sexual harassment” includes any one or more incidences of any of the following – the use of sexually suggestive words, comments, jokes, gestures or actions that annoy, alarm or abuse a person; the initiation of uninvited physical contact with a person; the initiation of unwelcome sexual advances or the requests of sexual favours from a person; asking a person intrusive questions that are of a sexual nature pertaining to that person’s private life; transmitting sexually offensive writing or material of any kind; making sexually offensive telephone or internet calls or messages to a person; or any other sexually suggestive conduct in circumstances where a reasonable person would consider the conduct to be offensive
As we face this time of reflection and make our resolutions for the new year, it is important to be empowered by these additional protections and speak up when injustices are suspected.
Bullying, grooming and sexual assault rear their ugly heads in schools, at home and in the workplace, and should not be dismissed or excused because of threats to the family unit, job security or social interactions.
Speak out where you see gaps in protections and contact your Member of Parliament or one of the community support services, including the Centre Against Abuse, the Women's Resource Centre, Scars, Pathways Bermuda, Safe Space Bermuda, Women Action Change Today, Under Konstruction, OutBermuda and Social Justice Bermuda.
As a community, we must look to the new year to strengthen our laws to provide seamless protections for victims of abuse. Elaine Butterfield, the executive director of the Women’s Resource Centre, welcomes the idea of a “domestic violence court” and said it could offer a more efficient way to handle abuse cases.
The Bermuda Police Service website reminds victims that Protection Order applications can be made under the Stalking Act 1997 and says, “there does not need to be an established relationship, the subject need only be conducting behaviour that causes or is intended to cause fear in another person".
The website adds: “Application is not a simple process and should be done with the assistance of a lawyer or other agencies experienced in protection orders.”
Laurie Shiell, the executive director of the Centre Against Abuse, said studies had shown that the LGBTQ community suffered disproportionate levels of violence and sex abuse in relationships. Public awareness and training will strengthen services to the gay community and will assist with the reduction of domestic violence in Bermuda.
Cole Simons, the leader of the One Bermuda Alliance, read in the Reply to the Throne Speech: “There needs to be a monitoring system put in place allowing the police to further investigate charges of alleged abuse even if they are unreported by the victims, and ensure that data about violence from medical care are being investigated fully for the protection of our citizens, and ensure there is a safe way to report abuse and have it investigated."
This is the year to speak up. Let’s have more of those difficult conversations and let's remove the stigma so that we may empower the community and diminish the offenders.
• Susan Jackson is the One Bermuda Aliance MP for Pembroke South West (Constituency 20). She can be reached at email@example.com