Log In

Reset Password

Simons speaks out on sexual harassment

Opposition senator Andrew Simons (File photograph)

An unfair burden is placed on the victims of sexual abuse and harassment to speak up, Senator Andrew Simons said yesterday.

Mr Simons, of the One Bermuda Alliance, called on the community to step up and address the behaviour, which he said happens in all manner of organisations on the island.

Mr Simons spoke out in the wake of worldwide revelations in which Hollywood tycoon Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment and assault by dozens of women.

Mr Simons said the #MeToo campaign, which encouraged others to share their experiences, “shows us that sexual assault and sexual harassment is endemic; it’s widespread”.

He added: “A huge percentage of women, really almost all women, will know of some experience of harassment or sexual abuse.

“If I look at my friends from Bermuda and around the world, I see that a lot of them are speaking about their experiences. That is evidence of a real problem.”

He said sexual assault, rape, bullying and harassment happen in Bermuda in all manner of organisations, from accounting firms to law firms, to the Civil Service and healthcare.

“There’s such a tendency over the years to blame victims that we don’t do enough to remind bystanders that there is a bigger responsibility for anyone in positions of power to intervene and to step up.”

“We place an unfair burden on victims, when they have to speak up and advocate for themselves while still grappling with the effects of those experiences. There are a lot of people who are complicit.

“Yes, women should speak up. Women should feel empowered to use the press to share their stories because sometimes the press can bring about swifter action than other pathways, but in some ways, more importantly, everyone else has to act.”

He added: “I am going to encourage anyone who is in a position of power in any organisation to speak up if they see this type of abuse.”

Mr Simons said there are some workplaces where certain behaviours such as harassment and bullying are seen as part of the industry “and that’s just not good enough”.

He pointed out that since the allegations were made against Weinstein, executives of other major companies had been fired because of longstanding cases of abuse and harassment.

“I am absolutely certain that we would find the same patterns here in Bermuda. Whenever people have power, there is a tendency to abuse that power.”

He highlighted law and accountancy as two professions “where there is a requirement for people to work in the industry before they are fully accepted in the profession”.

And he said: “Any time there is a pronounced power dynamic, we should be vigilant.

Mr Simons added: “If co-workers or managers leer at you, if they make inappropriate comments, if they call you names, all of that is unacceptable.

“Nine times out of ten, the behaviour is over the line, but the cases aren’t so clear cut that people are willing to risk tens of thousands of dollars in time and career opportunities to address it.

“This is why the responsibility should really fall to the broader community. We should all be sticking up for people who don’t have power.”

He said the Weinstein case had also demonstrated the striking power of the press and its ability to make “things happen faster than other mechanisms can”.

Mr Simons said the media could force companies to activate internal procedures by asking questions about the workplace culture and he urged the press to take reports of abuse seriously.

He also urged the government and the whole community to empower the Human Rights Commission.

“There are protections under the law for discrimination against women and sexual violence and harassment can fall into that category but we always need those organisations to have teeth.

He also noted that Bermuda is a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Mr Simons said: “I hope we take the responsibilities under that convention seriously because there are still gaps, there are still loopholes where behaviour is abusive, it’s directed at women and sometimes at men, but for whatever reason, we haven’t closed those loopholes so action can be taken.”

He concluded: “It’s very much a call to action for our whole community to step up and address this issue of assault and I hope we, as an island, can make real progress there.”