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Saturday 16 February 2019
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Students write sexual harassment handbook

Hugh Wooding Law School year-two students  Sara 
Martinez, left, Rachel Weekes, Ansar 
Mohammed and Casiana Sankar pose with their 
Sexual Harassment 
Workbook.
Hugh Wooding Law School year-two students Sara Martinez, left, Rachel Weekes, Ansar Mohammed and Casiana Sankar pose with their Sexual Harassment Workbook.

AS he squeezed behind her, she felt his pants brush against her butt. As he passed, he touched her leg with her arm and said, "Yeah, those pants really make your butt look good. It feels good too."

This case of sexual harassment by her employer forced then 18-year-old Sydney Joseph to resign immediately as a jewellery store clerk.

She recalled, "In my last week, he starting making concerted attempts to pass behind me while I was working.

"Jewellery stores generally do not have much space behind the counters, so for him to pass behind me, it involved squeezing past me. In the last week, he did it once or twice and I mentioned that he could just ask me to step to the side so he could pass, and his reply was that he didn't need to. It wasn't a problem to him."

Joseph, 21, now works in advertising. She only worked in that store for a month.

Cover of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Handbook, which was designed Corey Marshall

Cases of sexual harassment are not uncommon in TT.

Roslyn Carrington was a public relations officer at a gas company when a senior worker she was partnered with would harass her.

"He used to tell me what soft, full lips I had, and my boyfriend was so lucky because I had such round, full breasts," she said.

Recalling a meeting where the button on her blouse became undone, the man would not stop staring at her breasts.

"I still get flashbacks about the time...He literally couldn't keep his eyes away. I started off holding up a book to my chest and eventually I got up, went to my office and put on a sweater and came back," she said.

Carrington wanted to report the incident, but was afraid of causing problems.

"My manager and supervisor were in a meeting in a room nearby. I could see them. All I wanted to do was storm over and tell them I didn't want to work with him. But I was scared to rock the boat," she said.

The design of Men Too by Renelle Williams was writen to depict that men are victims of sexual harassment as well.

To help people like Joseph and Carrington who experience sexual harassment, second-year students of the Hugh Wooding Law School, as part of the Human Rights Clinic project, have created Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: A Handbook. This text was made to help people navigate the laws if they are sexually harassed.

This book was launched last year on Human Rights Day – December 10 – at the Hugh Wooding Law School Human Rights Clinic, Gordon Street, St Augustine.

The law school has specialist clinics available for year-two students through the Human Rights Clinic. The students were asked to make a creative, educational project on human-rights issues. Twelve students took part last year. They were split up into three groups and each group focused on sexual harassment, mental health or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) issues.

Ansar Mohammed, one of the four students who contributed to the sexual harassment handbook, said it was "our way of raising awareness towards sexual harassment in the workplace. People don't understand the low threshold of behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment."

Tackling consent, the book says sexual harassment must consist of unwelcome or uninvited behaviour.

"Behaviour must be unwelcome or uninvited. This type of behaviour is subjective in nature... This understanding is important because not all behaviours of a sexual nature will be considered unwelcome or uninvited as some can tolerate more than others."

Sexual harassment acts may not necessarily be sexual in nature. They include: sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, cat calling, sexually suggestive signals, making sexual jokes, stories and comments, staring, hugging, kissing, making sexual gestures with hands or making facial expressions such as winking or blowing kisses.

The handbook advises victims to keep a detailed journal of the harassment which could be used as evidence for an investigation. They should also keep copies of any offensive materials they receive, which include text messages, pictures or notes, and they should confide in someone about the harassment. This not only gives emotional support but also provides important evidence.

The handbook also breaks down the different legal channels people can use if they are being harassed at work. As TT has no Sexual Harassment Act, the Constitution, the Equal Opportunity Act, the Industrial Relations Act, Operational Health and Safety Act and Sexual Offences Act are the legal texts a sexual harassment victim could use seek help.

"In TT there is no stand-alone legislation.
What persons have to do is fit themselves in to what legislation might fit their circumstance," Mohammed said.

As men are also harassed, Mohammed said he specifically wrote a section called Men Too because he believed not many men will report or acknowledge their harassment.

"We live in the Caribbean region and we have this idea that 'real men' do not get sexually harassed. Men too are indeed affected and they feel this way."

They suppress it, but it has an impact on them and the remedies are available for them too, he said.

The handbook also lays out the process people can use to seek help from the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). Weekes, the writer of this section, said she hopes this book will make the EOC guidelines more accessible for people seeking help.

The book notes that in June 2018 the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development published a draft national policy on sexual harassment in the workplace, but Mohammed said it is not legally binding. All the students are calling on the Government to create a specific law to deal with sexual harassment.

Sankar, who designed the overall book said, "As law students, it was a shock for us to find out that there is no legislation for sexual harassment. We hope that this book will educate people and encourage the government to put sexual harassment legislation on their agenda."

Written by Mohammed, Sara Martinez, Casiana Sankar and Rachel Weekes, the 24-page document is available online  here.

 

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