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We, too, must fight sexual harassment and abuse

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Before the latest chapters of ‘Trump-gate’ and the recent terror attack in New York city, (note how quickly themedia branded this as terror, as opposed to the delays when there are home-grown terrorist incidents), the major international headlines

revolved around revelations of sexual harassment.

Not that sexual harassment and abuse are anything new, but as more and more revelations are made public, so too others, whether genuine, copy-cats, or headline-seekers, are speaking out and making allegations. “Me too”, has become the banner under which these revelations are being made, in the process making shambles of the hitherto illustrious careers of a number of prominent global figures.

Who could have imagined how far the once internationally revered Bill Cosby would have fallen, following very damaging allegations? In more recent times, such ‘big-wigs’ of the movie industry as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have had to face the music too. Nor

is it confined to the entertainment industry. The Catholic Church is still trying to grapple with

revelations of a cover-up

of sexual abuses, dating back centuries in some cases, and politicians, as ever, are in the mix too, with British Prime Minister Theresa May vowing to take action against Parliamentarians caught in the sexual web.

While the exposure of such incidents is important in helping to focus public opinion on the need to combat and stamp out such behaviour, it is also vital that we look beyond the saucy bits, and the embarrassment befalling public figures to societal attitudes which give support and succour to such errant actions.

The US newspaper, The Washington Post, carried out a recent survey among American citizens on the subject. It found that 64 per cent of those polled feel that sexual harassment is a “serious problem” in the USA, as against 47 per cent who felt that way in 2011. Almost two-thirds said that men get away with such transgressions. Attitudes vary though among the sexes as to their views on the subject. Whereas with the rise of feminism and greater assertion by women of their rights, there is a keener perception of what constitutes sexual harassment, the views of men differ.

Thus, of 750 men polled, most were not sure what constitutes sexual harassment or sexual assault. One-third of them don’t think that catcalling is sexual harassment and two-thirds of them do not think that sexual harassment is sufficiently serious to be punishable by imprisonment.

These may be findings in US society, but they are reflective of male attitudes in global society, still very much male-dominated. We in the Caribbean, with our lethal mix of male-dominated society and the legacy of slavery, have problems in defining rights when it comes to sexual matters. We, or at least most of our males, pride ourselves on the ‘macho’ Caribbean man and sexual jokes and passes are very much acceptable in conversation and social behaviour.

In addition, sexual harassment and abuse are very much associated with power and privilege, and even when challenged, cover-ups and buy-outs are routine responses. We even blame the victims for it; but how many lives have been ruined in the process? Is it not time for a frank and open conversation as to what constitutes sexual harassment in trying to define the boundaries of sexual approaches and behaviour?

But more than this, our women, and the women’s movement, as well as prominent women leaders, must lead the fight to stamp out this abuse and abomination, making women do “two work for one pay”, as we say, playing hush-hush in the face of gross violations.

WE, TOO, must play our part.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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