Proposal now made for sexual harassment to be reported six years after

PEOPLE who are sexually harassed and want to take legal action could have up to six years to report incident, up from the 12 months initially proposed, when the proposed Sexual Harassment Bill becomes law.

The suggested new timeline was put on the table yesterday during a meeting of the joint select committee of Parliament considering the provision. Earlier considerations of a one-year period had triggered howls of disgust from the public, especially after Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, in defending the 12-month time limit in Parliament, had said, “if you don’t complain within 12 months please, cut it out”, going further to say “We don’t want the situation that now happens in the ‘Me Too’ movement in the US where 30 years later you talk about, ‘I was harassed in the elevator’.”

Minister Chuck has since apologised profusely for that comment.

According to the present Section 25, a complaint can be made to the Sexual Harassment Tribunal alleging that an individual or an organisation has breached certain provisions outlined within the law. It goes further to say the complaint must be made within a period of 12 months from the date of the alleged act for it to be considered legitimate. This meant that complaints could not be made after 12 months, even where credible evidence exists that the incident occurred.

However, yesterday committee members who have continued examination of the various clauses of the Bill, alongside the proposals contained in several submissions, arrived at the six years after much discussion with some individuals suggesting a three-year cap with a provision to enlarge. The three-year cap had also been proposed by the Norman Manley Law School in its submissions.

Opposition committee member Senator Donna Scott Mottley, in her comments, said she had initially been minded to accept the one-year limitation, pointing to other jurisdictions where the time limits are three months in cases and six months in others. She, however, said her view changed upon hearing the kinds of trauma experienced by people who have been sexually harassed.

Government Senator Saphire Longmore yesterday made several impassioned appeals for the period to be expanded. She was supported by Opposition Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns who said a satisfactory timeline, in her opinion, would be between three and six years. They were also of the view that where children are concerned the issue needs to be dealt with on a different level.

“I would recommend that we amend and that we look at the maximum time that could be facilitated,” chairman of the joint select committee and minister in charge of gender affairs, Olivia Grange, said in wading in on the debate.

The Sexual Harassment Bill is a civil liability statute and outlines the types of conduct that constitute sexual harassment, prohibits certain related conduct, and provide victims with an avenue to have their complaints heard. It addresses sexual harassment in the workplace and institutions such as schools, hospitals, and prisons, as well as tenant and landlord arrangements. It regulates how cases of sexual harassment are to be handled and places several legal duties on companies, schools, hospitals and other institutions to take certain measures, actions and steps regarding the issue of sexual harassment.

The committee will continue its deliberations when it next meets.

In the meantime, Grange said the committee intends to take the report to Parliament during the first quarter of the new fiscal year.

“We know members of the public are eager for the finalisation, we are eager to deliver as well. We know that this Bill when it becomes law will deal a blow, and will hopefully act as a deterrent.”

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