So Many Times Betrayed – Part I (a series on sexual harassment…) @BermudaPSU

Through this world I stumble
So many times betrayed
Trying to find an honest word
To find the truth enslaved

– From ‘Possession’ by Sarah McLachlan.

The appointment, yesterday, of former MP Rolfe Commissiong to the Senate as the Government Senate Leader as well as the Minister-in-the-Senate as Minister of Community & Sport, has proved to be quite a controversial appointment. Indeed, some might say that the honeymoon period for the re-elected 30-6 Government is over in a remarkably short time.

The reason for this controversy stems to the nature of Senator Commissiong’s decision to not contest the 2020 election, giving way to Finance Minister Curtis Dickinson to run in the constituency so vacated. That decision arose due to the media reporting that Mr. Commissiong had sexually harassed a civil servant. There’s more to that story, however it has (and will likely) be covered elsewhere. What interests me is the resulting national discussion – on social media, radio, offices (particularly in the civil service) and in the street. To be frank, it has prompted a lot of discussion about sexual harassment.

It occurred to me that there would be some utility in exploring this topic, and so here we are.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Minister Jason Hayward, when he was the President of the BPSU, wrote a valuable report on ‘Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’, which will be the subject of my initial posts on this subject. It is well worth reading, and was even featured in Social Justice Bermuda’s initial reaction to this Commissiong Controversy.

This report opens with a definition taken from the Human Rights Act 1981, Section 9(4). I actually think it is worth quoting the relevant Section in its entirety:

9 – Sexual Harassment Prohibited

  1. No person shall abuse any position or authority which he occupies in relation to any other person employed by him or by any concern which employs both of such persons, for the purpose of harassing that other person sexually.
  2. A person who occupies accommodation has a right to freedom from sexual harassment by the landlord, or by an agent of the landlord, or by an occupant of the same building.
  3. A person who is an employee has a right to freedom in his workplace from sexual harassment by his employer, or by an agent of his employer, or by a fellow employee, and an employer shall take such action as is reasonably necessary to ensure that sexual harassment does not occur in the workplace.
  4. For the purposes of this section, a person harasses another sexually if he engages in sexual comment or sexual conduct towards that other which is vexatious and which he knows, or ought to know, is unwelcome.

Whether section 4, as regards ‘the employer’, refers in the case of Mr. Commissiong when the incident occurred, applies to the Premier, the Speaker or ‘the people’ is an interesting question. However, I digress…

The report itself opens with the following comment on sexual harassment:

“Sexual harassment is a hazard encountered in workplaces across the world that reduces the quality of working life, jeopardises the well-being of women and men, undermines gender equality and imposes costs on businesses and organisations.”

The report also provides a more detailed description of sexual harassment from the ILO:

“…any unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, request for sexual favours, verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature; or other behaviour or a sexual nature that makes the recipient feel humiliated, offended and/or intimidated, where such reaction is reasonable in the situation and condition; or made into working requirement or create an intimidating hostile or inappropriate working environment.” – ILO (2011) Guidelines on Sexual Harassment at the Workplace. [Page 5]

The BPSU report then cites the different types of sexual harassment identified in the 2011 ILO Guidelines [page 7], which are worth copying here too:

  1. Physical Harassment – unwelcomed touching in a sexual manner such as kissing, patting, pinching, glancing or staring lustfully.
  2. Verbal Harassment – unwelcomed comments about private life, body parts or a person’s appearance, sexually suggestive jokes and comments.
  3. Gestural Harassment – sexually suggestive body language and/or gestures, repeated winks, gestures with fingers, and licking lips.
  4. Written or Graphic Harassment – display of pornographic materials, sexually explicit pictures, screensavers or posters, or harassment via emails and other modes of electronic communication.
  5. Psychological/Emotional Harassment – persistent proposals and unwelcomed requests, unwanted invitations to go out on dates, insults, taunts or innuendo of a sexual nature.

As noted in the report, the above is not exhaustive…

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