So Many Times Betrayed – Part II @BermudaPSU

Girl I believe you
Are you losing your mind thinking
What will it take to make somebody listen to you

I Believe You by Fletcher

Continuing my series exploring the issue of sexual harassment, this post continues the review of the BPSU’s report on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, written by now Minister Jason Hayward.

Gender Lenses

Having provide a definition of sexual harassment and some general types of it, the report has an interesting section on ‘Gender Lenses’. Essentially, this section notes that perception of sexual harassment (and/or its severity) is often influenced by gender.

“Men and women exhibit vastly different views of the propriety of sex in the workplace. In general, men and women differ concerning the appropriateness of sexual conduct in the workplace; behaviour considered offensive by women may be viewed as harmless by men.”

This is important to note, especially in the current context that has spurred this conversation about sexual harassment. As most, if not all, of the women affected by this appointment (either having previously experienced sexual harassment, or potentially subject to such) are civil servants (and thus restricted in having a voice as the matter relates to political appointments), only one side of the story is being given – all from men, and thus potentially subject to the gender lens/filter raised in the report. Additionally, many of the social media discussion on this largely seems to reflect this gender bias (with the addition that several male commentators feel that women are weaponising sexual harassment claims).

Now, the report cites two studies by:

  1. Gregory, Raymond, F. (2004) Unwelcome and unlawful: sexual harassment in the American workplace. New York, Cornell University Press.
  2. Bannerjee, et al (2011) Gender differences in perception of workplace sexual harassment among future professionals (Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 20(1): 21-4).

Both of these are excellent papers and well worth the read for those interested.

Now, the key takeaways from these papers that the report notes are:

  1. In general men and women diverge greatly on what they would consider offensive sexual harassment (in particular being propositoned by the opposite sex).
  2. In general men blame women for sexual harassment, in the form of saying women are responsible for their harassment in the workplace based on their dress or working in a male dominated space, and so on.
  3. That there is a need for awareness training – especially for men – regarding the full definition and scope of sexual harassment.

These findings are not new, nor are they exceptional. As Bhattacharya & Stockdale (2016) note:

  1. “Men’s attitude toward sexually harassing activities continues to be more tolerant than women’s.”
  2. “Women are more likely than men to define social-sexual behaviour or events to be sexually harassing or rate such events to be more severe, threatening, unwelcome, serious, or harmful…”
  3. “…there is abundant evidence that women tend to be more sensitive than men to SH [sexual harassment] perceptions and that individuals endorsing traditional masculine gender role orientations or sexist attitudes tend to be less sensitive to SH perceptions…”

There are, of course, plenty additional academic studies that basically find the same thing. In general, men are less likely to perceive their behaviours as sexually harassing than the women who are generally the subject of the harassing. And furthermore, men are more likely to blame the victim.

Myself, I was struck by the similarity here with perceptions of racism. As far back as 1981 (and no doubt earlier – see McConahay, et al ‘Has Racism Declined in America? It depends on who is asking and what is asked’), it was recongised that Whites (who generally benefitted from slavery, segregation and ongoing structural racism) are less likely to recognise the continuation of racism beyond the overt ‘old-fashioned’ in your face form of racism.

As our studies demonstrated, whites mainly recognise old-fashioned racism as reflecting racism. Any of their opinions, beliefs, or actions that work to the detriment of blacks are not seen as prejudice; and since most white Americans either do not hold old-fashioned racist beliefs or they feel guilty about the ones they do hold, whites tend to think racism is a thing of the past. Hence, whites perceive the continuing efforts and demands of blacks as unjustified, while blacks see whites’ resistance to these efforts as tangible proof of racism and hypocrisy, and the cycle of conflict continues.”

In general, using the US example again, perceptions on racism remain different depending on whether the perceiver is white or black.

There is a clear gender bias or ‘lens’ in perceptions of sexual harassment.

Internalised Sexism

Not covered in the BPSU report, but something which I think is worth at least mentioning here is the matter of internalised sexism. In this, I am referring to women that have internalised sexist attitudes and help enable the perpetuation of such – in this case either dismissing claims of sexual harassment or blaming the victim.

There are, of course, various aspects of internalised sexism, but the one I’m referring to here is these aspects:

“Defending, justifying, and excusing individual acts of misogyny, mistreatment, and/or abuse, either toward oneself or toward other women.”

“Defending, justifying, and supporting societal, institutional, political, and/or cultural bias and oppression against women (internalized oppression). Blaming women for causing their own victimization.”

This has certainly been on display on some social media conversations concerning the Commissiong controversy, as well as the radio. In this, the women involved have helped support and legitimise the oppression of other women. There are even some women with internalised sexism who will actively seek out sexually harassing behaviour from men, and to that degree dismiss the very real trauma of sexual harassment on other victims.

In some situations, this can be particularly problematic should a woman with such internalised sexism holds a key role of a shop steward in a unionised workplace. This may cause women workers to feel they cannot go to their union for assistance. This is not the case – if you as a worker are in such a situation where you feel your shop steward is compromised, you can and should go directly to the union itself, be it to a Division Vice-President or to the Executive Committee of the union itself.

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…

Happy International Women’s Day 2015!

I generally write an annual article to commemorate this event, and this year is no different – only, as with last year, it’s on Bernews rather than my blog. 

This year I decided to build on a theme from my 2012 election platform:

“Enact Workforce Equity legislation to require all workplaces with more than 10 employees to develop a workplace equity review and plan to ensure gender and racial equity in the workplace concerning wages and decision-making.  Enable workers to seek compensation for unequal gender or racial pay regimes up until the year 2000.”

I decided to focus on the matter of gender (and racial) equity concerning decision-making in particular, and the article itself provides some useful links that I used for the argument.  I was also working on an equal pay aspect, but the article got far too unwieldy – so I’ll develop that for an article in it’s own right.

I would like to add a quote which I ultimately decided to cut from the article itself, because I think it does make a good point and is something to consider going forward.  It’s an excerpt from a 1983 work The Nouveau Poor by Barbara Ehrenreich and Karin Stallard – though over thirty years old, it still seems pretty valid to me!

“We need a feminist economic program, and that is no small order.  An economic program that speaks to the needs of women will have to address some of the most deep-seated injustices of a business-dominated economy and a male-dominated society.  Naming it will take us beyond the familiar consensus defined by the demand for equal rights – to new issues, new programs, and maybe new perspectives.  Whether there are debates ahead or collective breakthroughs, they are long overdue; the feminization of poverty demands a feminist vision of a just and democratic society.”

The Alleged Bean/Daniels Encounter

As I’ve noted already, I think the OBA’s decision to walk out of the Reply to the Throne Speech was an ill-judged one – and going on the basis of online comments (FB and Bernews) it has rather spectacularly backfired.  Quite frankly, they’ve failed to appreciate just how fed up the lay electorate is with the state of politics today.

I also think they’ve severely prejudiced the active police investigation now.

The OBA have released a statement to the media explaining their actions and giving an indication of what Mr Bean is alleged to have said.  The media is editing aspects of this, for various reasons (language, police investigation, etc), however the OBA has also posted their unedited version on their FB page, of which you can see a screenshot to the right. OBA walkout

It’s important to stress that this statement is one-sided.  It only presents what the OBA wants it to present, and for all we know they’ve selectively edited it for their benefit (of attacking Mr Bean).  However, perception becomes reality – or more real than reality – in politics, and Mr Bean’s past use of language render it easy to accept that at least part of this statement is true, even if somewhat out of context, hypothetically.

Now, based solely on this summary, I’m really not sure there’s much of a criminal case to answer, and if this is all there is I think the police are likely going to simply drop the investigation.  They have to investigate on the basis of the complaint, but they are likely to just conclude there’s nothing there to charge Mr Bean with unlawful conduct.

Looking at the comments, while they can (and are by PLPers on FB) be spun away, I think we can agree that the language and imagery involved are unbecoming an MP, let alone the Opposition Leader and prospective Premier.

As I’ve said before, this just underlines a tendency of Mr Bean which in my opinion adds to my conclusion that his Leadership should be open to question.  He is a political liability for the PLP and damaging their hopes of re-election, all this despite staggering incompetence and scandal on the part of the OBA.

I can understand how his victim would likely have interpreted the comments, and I can certainly see how they come across as misogynistic.  Mr Bean should rightly be criticised for them, and his own MPs and members should be leading this criticism, at least internally, if for no other reason than the political damage it causes the party.

I don’t think that justifies the OBA’s actions one bit however.  They had much better options to chose from, and it’s hard not to think that they themselves realised the police were likely to drop the investigation, and so sought to pre-empt this, with an eye to extracting maximum impact in advance of the by-election next week.

I have trouble thinking they have taken a principled stand here rather than an opportunistic one for political purposes, especially when they had better options available to them, such as a motion for a joint select committee on Members behaviour, conduct and sexism in general.

So, yes, Mr Bean should be criticised.  If he had a point to get across to Ms Daniels, he chose absolutely the wrong language and manner for doing so, and reinforces questions of his suitability as Leader.

However, the OBA have completely mishandled this and scored an own-goal.

In the end, the respect for parliament is further lowered.

Guest Post on Domestic Violence – Part Three

This is the third part of guest writer, former Senator, Davida Morris’s discussion about domestic violence, following on from the news of the Centre Against Abuse having to close its shelter some weeks ago.

See Part One and Part Two also.

Answering Mike

In this third installment on domestic violence (DV) I am responding to the rest of Mike’s questions regarding the messages around DV and the social impact it has.

In the last few weeks DV has taken centre stage, not just in Bermuda but in the US too, with the Ray Rice physical abuse incident. 

Guest writer, former Senator Davida Morris

Guest writer, former Senator Davida Morris

In an effort to find the good in a really messed up situation I can only hope that these incidents spark conversations and education around DV and abuse so that no one has to go through such a horrible ordeal.

Because the safe house is (was) there, are we sending a message to the bullies that someone will look after them – so keep abusing?

Not at all.

Abusive men don’t want the shelter to exist.  The shelter is a refuge, escape from their abuse and brings light where the abuser doesn’t want it.

Abusers will keep abusing until they are forced to stop.

The real message the safe house sends to abusers is that no matter how hard they try to isolate the victim from their friends and family there is somewhere for abused women to go to escape their torment.

If we let the shelter close and do not fight to keep it open, then we are saying that this behaviour (abuse) is acceptable, we are saying that we don’t care what happens to the abused, we are telling abused women that they must accept that this is their lot in life.

Are we saying that the message about abuse has failed totally or in part?  Why?  What causers that failure?

I don’t think the message about abuse has failed, although it may need to be repackaged, updated, modernised and said a little bit louder and more often from more people.

Abuse takes many forms and can change in how it’s presented, so where most think of hitting and slapping as abuse, they may not consider isolation or control over one’s phone as abuse.  If we, as a community, are not educated on what to look for then we can miss the signs.

Unfortunately, getting the message can be difficult.

Charities, at the end of the day, are a business that runs on a different model.

Bermuda is not the only country where charities have suffered because of the global economic downturn.  Living in London and working in the charity sector I can tell you the money is not there like it used to be.

This can force difficult decisions, like promoting yourself versus rent, or services versus salaries.

It’s especially worse if your charity isn’t for a particularly sexy or ‘exciting’ cause.

We cannot expect charities to do all the work however.  Everyone must play their role.

Parents must tell their children that abuse is not right and not acceptable.  My mother drilled into my sister and me (among other things) that if a man hits you once, you leave and don’t look back.  No second chances.

So the one time a male had the brazen nerve and poor sense to lay hands on me, I put him in his place.  Outsider of my life.

The Church has a role to play.  Extended family members, friends.  Talk about abuse!

We can’t sweep the issue under the rug or act like it’s not our concern.  When we do that, that’s when the message fails.

When the community refuses to talk about abuse, when we refuse to spread the message, then the message fails.

Do we have strong enough legislation and police powers to deal with it?

When looking at the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act 1997 [PDF], the legislation governing domestic violence and abuse, I feel on first glance it’s okay but could be updated and broadened.

Currently the law lists physical, sexual and psychological abuse.  While they are the more common forms of abuse there are other forms of abuse that should be mentioned and made illegal.

I need more clarification on whether the police can arrest a perpetrator of abuse without consent of the victim, but I do believe that it is something worth including in the legislation or making more clear, as often the victim will not want to press charges.

Would women feel more able to respond at the early stages of a changing relationship if they knew society will not tolerate abusive behaviour, and will remove someone from society quickly if proven?

I think this question should be reworded to:

‘Would perpetrators of abuse think twice about hitting a woman if they knew that they face community ostracism and the full hand of the law most assuredly?’

I’d like to think so.



Guest Post on Domestic Violence – Part Two

This is another guest post by former Senator Davida Morris, a follow up to her earlier post on domestic violence.

‘A Reply to Mike’

I decided to break down my response to Mike’s questions into two parts.

This part will deal with domestic violence in and of itself to give a better understanding of what goes on in these kind of relationships and why people act as they do, providing answers to his questions which are highlighted.

Guest writer, former Senator Davida Morris

Guest writer, former Senator Davida Morris

First, a definition from the Centre Against Abuse’s website.

Domestic Violence (DV) is a “pattern of unwanted behaviour(s) using power and control by one person over an intimate partner”.

Understand, DV is not just about hitting a person, or verbally abusing them, and rarely does it manifest on its own.

There is financial abuse – controlling their partner’s money; social abuse – controlling who they see.

The website lists eight different forms of abuse altogether.

To what extent do women fail to react because of ‘love’?

The most detrimental form of abuse in my opinion is emotional abuse – behaviours (verbal or nonverbal) that are designed to control and undermine the emotional well-being and sense of worth of another person.

By breaking down who the victim is, they can be made to believe that they deserve such treatment.

The victim is grateful for the ‘love’ they receive because they don’t believe that they are worthy of anything better.

The bruises of physical abuse can heal in a few weeks but emotional scars take much longer to heal and require work to overcome.  Without any support to counteract the negative messages they have received the victim is more likely to stay with their partner.

It must be fairly obvious early on that the relationship has changed to something that is not liked?

Most perpetrators of domestic violence don’t come out the gate swinging and punching.

They woo, they show caring, they show love.

That is how you draw a person in.

It’s once they have their partner where they want them, living with them, married to them, isolated from others, that they begin to change.

Some will take the view that this change is temporary, and/or that ‘he’ will return to normal at some point?

Abuse in a DV situation ins’t a constant thing.

It can be intermittent.

If it was happening all the time, every day, then the victim would be more likely to leave, but as this is not the case there is time for victims to justify in their minds what has occurred.

The cycle of abuse is this:

  1. The ‘honeymoon’ period where everything is great.
  2. Tension building, where things are less than ideal.
  3. Things get progressively worse until the explosion or abuse happens to be followed by the honeymoon period where perpetrator apologises and they ‘make up’, all is lovey dovey and wonderful, until…

The honeymoon period is the ‘normal’ victims attempt to maintain.

There is a kind of glossing over the bad.

With the breaking down of self-esteem the ‘he didn’t mean it’ and the ‘it’s my fault, I made him mad’ comes in because in the victim’s the honeymoon period is the ‘real’ part of their relationship.

Why does it take 32 incidents before someone reacts?

While I’m not sure why 32 is the ‘magic’ number for victims to leave a DV situation there are so many reasons why people stay.

  • They are economically dependent on their partner.
  • Religious beliefs.
  • They stay for the kids.
  • They don’t believe they are capable of living on their own.
  • They think they will never find another relationship.
  • They were brought up in an abusive home and feel like this is normal.
  • They are afraid due to threats by their partner.
  • Abuse escalates after a failed attempt to leave.
  • Cultural expectations.

Where on the continuum of the 32 does it kick in that ‘he ain’t going to change – this is permanent’?

I think the answer to that lies in circumstance.

There needs to be some catalyst for change.

It could be that they saw a television show where abuse is depicted and it clicks.

It could be they have someone supportive in their life who sees what’s going on and refuses to allow them to stay in the relationship, or one day, as they contemplate their life and what it has become, they decide they really have had enough.

Or, and I truly hope this doesn’t happen too often, they get beaten so badly they realise that their relationship just ins’t right.

A person who has been beaten physically and mentally is more likely to leave if there is someone in their life who can provide them with a feasible alternative.

That’s what the Centre Against Abuse provides.

That is why it is so needed.

That is why we as a community need to ensure that it does not close its doors.


The Centre Against Abuse’s website is a really great reference point.

They have questionnaires to help people determine if they are in an abusive relationship or if a person is an abuser.

There are great resources there, as well as safety plans, guidelines for work and how to support a person in an abusive relationship.

For the months of September, starting today (September 6th), the Dress for Success thrift store in St George’s will be selling brand new and used clothing between the hours of 10am and 3pm.

All proceeds will go to the Centre Against Abuse, and I encourage people to go by and take a look, or make a donation.

Bermuda cannot afford to lose this very real and very needed service.

Guest Post – On Domestic Violence

This is a guest post, written by former Senator Davida Morris as a follow-up to my own earlier article.

On Domestic Violence  

Guest writer, former Senator Davida Morris

Guest writer, former Senator Davida Morris

With the possible closure of the Centre Against Abuse’s safe house, and the recent attack on lawyer Georgia Marshall by the estranged partner of the divorce lawyers client, I am yet again made aware that as a woman in 2014 I still have to be wary of the opposite sex.

Somewhere in the back of my mind is the awareness to be on guard against any and all men because one can never know what thoughts they harbour in relation to women.

In light of the closure of the shelter I thought it important to look at why it is important and needed in our country.

Jonathan kindly provided the 2013 report from the Bermuda Health Council [PDF] and the most recent crime statistics [PDF], and in reading them I became increasingly concerned about the hole that the shelter is leaving.

The thing that struck me most was that the younger demographic (18-39) were more likely to have experienced domestic violence.  I naively thought that the younger generation would be less susceptible because the message against abuse has been out there for so long that surely if they got into an awful situation like that they would soon leave.

Upon further reflection on the numbers I thought maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised considering the more prevalent messages we have received in reference to sex and relationships.

Considering Western society’s preoccupation with sex that pervades our advertising, movies and the worst culprits, misogynistic music and music videos.  I don’t think enough is being done to counteract these erroneous messages which produce warped views on sex and relationships, which ultimately impact how men and women view themselves and relate to each other.

There is a real need to teach about healthy relationships.  Domestic violence, in simplistic terms, is a mix of low self-esteem and a need to exert control, and there is a real need to improve the self-esteem of men and women.

I want to believe the increase in domestic violence reports are due to increased reporting and not an increase in incidents.  Considering it takes on average 32 incidents for a person to report abuse I really hope that it’s due to increased reporting.

The closure of the safe house leaves a hole in our society that we simply cannot allow to exist.

The problems will not go away with the closure of this shelter.

This gap must be filled, not just for the sake of women fleeing abusive relationships, in need of the opportunity to rebuild their lives and self-esteem, but for the future generations so that they know this deplorable behaviour is not acceptable.

In the meantime one can only hope that people who have domestic violence as their lived reality have people in their lives who are willing to talk to them, build them up and support them in escaping their situation.