Post 262.

Joy without Justice

The real tief head is when a company has a sexual harassment policy in place, and yet a victim can’t get justice. It says a lot about the risks of speaking out about sexual violence as a working, even professional-level, woman. The risks are that a series of power plays occurs which mean that an incident that may have actually happened gets buried under messy and even irrelevant information. In the end, a victim may be left without the safety of proper protocols and maybe even without a job.

The idea that claiming sexual harassment is an easy win against men is, of course, a myth. Claims of sexual harassment are always going to cost women who make them, whether to their professional or public reputation or to their chances of career success or simply to their emotional resilience. Even if you are telling the truth, even if you are believed, even if you can show complete innocence, even if correct processes are followed, there is no way that claiming sexual harassment will not come at a cost to you and you alone.

It may be that your work performance gets dragged into the corporate conversation or a smear campaign follows you in an attempt to restore the hierarchy and order which your complaint challenged. It may be that an independent committee established to assess your complaint gets disbanded, on spurious grounds that feminists are biased against men, for example, and an individual substituted to complete the process simply doesn’t convey the same sense of trust to you or, later, the public. It may be that your bosses believe you, but their advice is to not make it a big deal, given the costs, stress and gossip about you and the company. And, so, your vulnerability isn’t decreased, it’s just mismanaged.

What’s amazing is how one badly handled incident sends a hopeless message to a nation of women that there’s little reason to tell the truth in your own self-defense against sexual harassment. It also tells other women to mind their business and keep their distance in case the smear hits them too or in case HR messiness takes over and choosing the right side becomes a minefield even angels fear to tread.

There’s a close connection between men’s institutional and economic status, authority and power, and women’s experiences of sexual harassment that makes this issue of both gender inequality and gender-based violence, even where the details are slightly different across an entire planet full of cases.

There’s also a close connection between male power and the lack of sexual harassment legislation or widely-adopted sexual harassment policies. It’s not that there are no progressive men in power in business or politics, It’s that prioritizing the right ways to deal with sexual harassment requires changing whole organizational cultures on the basis of women workers’ rights, and that requires commitment, leadership, extra effort and the will to challenge a bro-code governing well-connected and powerful men.

Anybody can sexually harass anybody, but this is power men unequally wield because, at least in Trinidad and Tobago, on corporate boards and senior management, they outnumber women, and in political party hierarchies as well as parliament and Cabinet, they outnumber women. And, indeed, when sexual harassment remains primarily an issue of men’s power over women, even women are likely to reproduce the lens of the powerful, and victim-blame too.

In a season of pastells and parang, widespread and messy experiences of gender-based violence mean that not everyone has access to comfort, security, trust and fair outcome.

Amidst Christmas merriment, there are women living in fear despite holding protection orders. There are women afraid to speak up about inappropriate behavior in their offices or on streets. What will be our gift to them, for without institutionalizing effective protections for those more vulnerable, we are being tightfisted with our sharing of both justice and joy.

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Post 261.

16 Ways Activism Can End GBV

At the forum held on Friday, in collaboration with the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, and to kick off 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Based Violence, the Equal Opportunity Commission proposed changes to the Domestic Violence Act (Chp 45:56). Ten proposed changes are listed below:

  1. Remove the perpetrator from the home not the victim. Moving women to a shelter can derail children and women’s lives. What happens when their time at the shelter runs out? Some women return home to the abuse.
  2. Police must respond to all complaints. There are no penalties if police do not respond to all complaints. There are many stories of women who call for police help, but who wait in vain for them to come. Additionally, there should be a protocol for responding to all complaints. For example, a record should be made even if a woman is simply asking for police to warn her partner and isn’t yet ready for a charge to be laid or for a protection order.
  3. Amend definition of cohabitant to include same-sex relationships. Violence exists across relationships of different kinds, and all citizens have a right to violence-free homes.
  4. Police must charge for assaults and other crimes committed in domestic situations, and for breaches of Protection Order. When a woman goes to the police to report bruises from domestic violence, the police can charge perpetrators for assault, and begin criminal proceedings. What normally happens, however, is that police send women to a Justice of the Peace to begin her application for a protection order. Assault is assault and charges should be laid. Additionally, breaches of a Protection Order are a crime.
  5. No bail for persons charged with breaches of Protection Order. Given the many women killed while holding protection orders, there is impunity for men who can breach them, can secure bail, and then return to get revenge on women.
  6. Provide a network of support to persons who have a protection orderobservers must have a duty to report (new section). When a woman is killed, neighbours, family and employers can recall years, months or weeks of threats. A duty to report will help build a culture of everyone insisting domestic violence cannot happen on our corner.
  7. Create intervention for perpetrators threatening to kill (new section). When threats to women’s lives are made, what can they do? An intervention for perpetrators threatening to kill means that they will be held by police, receive counselling and other forms of intervention.
  8. Create inter agency protocols between police, magistrates, prosecutors, social workers and shelters (new section). Right now, this isn’t sufficiently structured or practiced.
  9. Create mandatory programs for victims and perpetrators. Mandatory counselling, over months, can make a difference to whole families, and should be part of the response to the approximately ten thousand applications for restraining orders requested yearly
  10. Resuscitate Police Domestic Violence Register maintained by the Commissioner of Police. This registry is mandated by the Domestic Violence Act, but isn’t functional, digitized, well sourced with data or referred to in either civil or criminal proceedings.

Those at the forum also proposed six necessary changes:

  1. Use the form provided by the DV Act to record reports of the domestic violence. This thorough form is not used consistently by police and legally needs to be as part of meeting the requirements of a National Domestic Violence Register
  2. There should not be a twelve-month requirement to be able to secure a protection order. These must be able to be triggered by one act of violence regardless of how long relationship is going on. This is particularly important for young women, who have a higher risk of violence, and may be in shorter-term relationships.
  3. A Victim and Witness Support Unit in Tobago. Establish it now.
  4. The justice system must inform victims if perpetrators get bail. They cannot be calling around to find out whether their lives have returned to being at risk.
  5. The National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based and Sexual Violence which has been sitting in front of Cabinet since 2016 must be approved and resourced.
  6. End jurisdiction issues for reporting domestic violence. Victims report police officers refusing to take reports when they are friendly with the men involved, and police officers refusing to take reports when it is out of their jurisdiction.

These 16 days, lend your support to activism on 16 ways to help end GBV.