Catcalling in Bermuda called out
Police have never received a service call in relation to incidents of street harassment, it was revealed in the House of Assembly yesterday.
The revelation came as Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, provided an update on work being planned by the Government to assess existing laws related to crimes such as catcalling.
Mr Weeks said: "Street harassment is not harmless. It can be an uncomfortable, frightening and even traumatic experience, particularly for young women. However traumatising it may be, it is seldom officially reported to the appropriate authorities.
“The Bermuda Police Service report that although they are aware of incidences of street harassment, there has never been a service call to them related to street harassment.
“I would like to suggest that our collective community’s indifference to street harassment over the years has made it unlikely that victims of street harassment will seek the help of the police.
“The lack of reporting is not an indication of the seriousness of this matter but, rather, it reflects the public’s perception that these incidents cannot be addressed through the judicial system. Many people rationalise that street harassment and catcalling is ‘not as serious’ as crimes such as sexual assault, so they do not bother with making a report.
“This is neither acceptable nor sustainable in a decent society.”
Mr Weeks reminded the public that a series of presentations on the issue of street harassment were produced through Family Centre’s Youth Leadership Academy.
He said his ministry would partner with Family Centre to “advance initiatives to address street harassment in Bermuda”.
The Government is to commence a legislative review to determine if existing laws can be improved, which will include examining laws in other countries, he said.
He added: “In December 2022, a Private Members Bill was introduced in the United Kingdom House of Commons with the broad support of the Government. The new legislation criminalises acts including catcalling and making offensive gestures, walking too closely behind someone at night, blocking someone’s path and driving slowly next to pedestrians.
“The Right Honourable Greg Clark, the sponsor of the Bill, said the Bill seeks to reinforce a change in the culture that establishes that it is completely unacceptable to abuse women in the streets.
“The Government and the Ministry of National Security agree with this sentiment. If our legislative review identifies areas for strengthening the provisions for offences against street harassment, we shall robustly pursue the necessary amendments.”
Mr Weeks said his ministry would commence a publicity campaign to highlight existing laws and encourage the reporting of such incidents.
“Our police officers are well suited to receive these complaints and to ensure that victims are supported throughout the process,” he said.
Susan Jackson, the Shadow Minister of Tourism and Seniors, asked whether any accountability could be applied to those who may be responsible for environments where harassment exists.
She said: “When reviewing the legislation, will the minister be looking at the accountability or enforcement that can be applied to employers, associations and others so that the responsibility to curtail catcalling is not put in the hands of a young woman who has been traumatised but rather the employers, property owners and police service?”
Mr Weeks responded: “When it comes to employees and employers, that comes under the Employment Act when it comes to bullying and other kinds of harassment. That has already been established.
“When it comes to catcalling and street harassment, legislation will be reviewed and once we have done a full review of it, we will determine what steps to take.”