Commentary: A delicate balance for few Caribbean women when powerful men behave badly

By Derrick Miller

Rape, unwanted sexual advance, assault, and even pedophiliac actions should no longer be an option to speak up against. These victims needs your support, and an action plan, as the region needs more women to come forward and get their stories told.

I could have posted the above statement on social media, check back to see how many likes, or re-tweets, sit back and feel good that my work is done.

But who will listen to her story that, during her local doctor’s visit for her annual checkup, inappropriately touched and complemented on her underwear, while alone in his office as her medical issues seemed less important.

He is well-known, who dares to talk, as he is the only person with access to much needed painkillers.

Whom do you report that incident to along these shores?

The other sexually assaulted, threatened to talk, she was given a check to stay quiet.

Later she was told to give it back and prove the incident.

Fired in her only job in her late 50s, unable to find work as potential employers hesitant to hire someone who filed these claims.

Another is now age 16, pregnant and dropped out of school: Her baby father is the powerful man down the road, the community blames her for being promiscuous, but who will listen if she called it rape?

We must start believing and supporting women, not because of their socio-economic status, and those aligned with our religious or political ideology.

When these women come forward, not only their career can be damaged, as they are often re-victimized and stigmatized.

It is our responsibility from human resources, local authorities, supervisors, and the community that, when they speak up about these dark experiences, it is treated as an unlawful case.

Sexual assault is beyond the movies and in politics; it is at the local church, grocery store, homes, and street corner.

One of my favorite pastimes is stopping along Caribbean hillsides, valleys, and coastlines. It is a treasured moment to stay connected with part of my roots, eating, and chatting with people while tuning into the local news media to get an authentic view of what is going on in these communities.

I often ask myself, “Am I in another country?” as it seems several locally important issues being discussed are often overlooked, driven by the sensationalism of global new.

I am not implying that there is a declining standard, and no coverage has taken place.

Today as it appears that society’s compulsive urge has created a detachment. And topics surrounding sexuality remain a delicate balance for many women in the region.

In fact, socially, culturally, and economically many of these global events have little or no impact on local structural problems.

Although being critical sometimes of these communities’ media abandonment as they balance topics in line with their essential point, or business as it fights for virtual space; today I wish more local news outlets would have adapted a wider stance of this international story because it is a local issue that seems to disappear as fast as it becomes known.

It is the story of women who came forward and spoke up about their experience of improper and inappropriate widespread sexual advances, harassment, and even rape by powerful men and even pedophiles.

We have seen several television shows cancelled and apologies from TV personalities, executives and a host of other networks announcing million-dollar settlements of harassment cases in the US.

This wave is far-reaching, and a 24-hour cycle or likes on social media cannot resolve it.

As I watched and tuned in to several Caribbean media, this story seems muted by many outlets that I believe could have an impact:

I get it: some rather leave it alone because of their potential local domino effect.

Especially for young girls being targeted, their stories whether in work, an educational setting, who have experienced rape, other violence, and disgusting abuses of power need to be told.

Studies have shown that every 95 seconds a woman is either raped or abused.

As more women begin to come forward, the next generation that is still searching for equality and representation will have a voice addressing sexual misconduct.

Few along these shores and elsewhere have the courage like Jamaican born actor and singer Grace Jones.

She told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that when she was much younger, and auditioned for a movie role that she was approached for sexual favours before she could be accepted.

She threw a drink at him, and left the room.

Although Grace Jones got out, many stayed for economic reasons and even fear of more violence, and they fail to speak up.

Even when women rise to the top, a hurdle remains for gender equity and equality.

Today, the male chauvinistic code remains high and, sadly, widely accepted in this region.

It needs a sea change because it can no longer be blamed on culture or an old system.

The plight of these women is more than a local politician arriving at a crime scene, taking a few pictures with a victim, posting it on social media with little or no resources to follow.

These communities would be better served if they refrain from managing these crimes like a 24-hour news cycle:

I am not an expert on women’s issues, but an hour’s radio talk show topic on women’s unity, with no action or policies, cannot change course.

It is like putting someone of colour in a company to be able to say now it is diverse, when that culture remains the same.

More women should be openly supporting each other when they come forward and that could help to cut the stigma.

These stories will help society and the next generation to define what is culturally acceptable.

Sexual harassment claims have cost both movie stars and politicians their jobs, while others’ portraits have been removed from buildings, and honorary degrees and awards rescinded.

The truth is, after a cooling off period, many will be back to work. These accused perpetrators are wealthy, and can afford to remain unemployed for the rest of their lives.

For victims, that is not always the case; many have no choice but to stay put on their job.

Sexual misconduct is not a refugee camps thing where women have fled violence, sexual exploitation and other atrocities; these incidents are prevalent in your workplaces, whether a multimillion production, to a local store and even a place of worship.

Today, millions of young women are still being forced in pre-arranged marriages before their 15th birthday.

The objectification of women, especially in poor communities, where studies have shown that gender role is defined and coupled with inequality and polarization, places these victims at a higher risk of human sexual trafficking, and domestic violence.

Family members often know about these incidents, but because they too are employed by the only company in town, and to save their own economic survival, they remain silent

From the movie producer, actor, business owner, law enforcement and politicians or teachers, accountability is key to helping this community to begin how community sees these issues.

An election alone is only one action to decide their fate and careers, but having their behaviour known is a start.

The hope is that victims can find the courage to come forward and a place to tell their stories, with support from other women, and without fear how they will feed their families.

Finally, although experts have argued that print media is a dying industry as people compete for virtual space, writing about these stories builds confidence for the next generation to speak up, reduces potential domestic violence, and other crimes committed against women in these communities.

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