by Senator Elizabeth Bennett
There are so many issues to write about that are impacting our beautiful country Belize – our poor road conditions, frequent road accidents, low literacy rate, massive unemployment and the list can go on and on. Covid-19 just came and added its own layer of challenges but it has also presented a multitude of rich blessings as well. And just as we were starting to enjoy the relaxed measures of quarantine, a different type of Covid-19 surfaces that had the country spinning once more. It was not the usual gun violence but allegations of sexual harassment and abuse in a prestigious institution that we would hope would be “immaculate” because of the function and responsibility it hold to the nation.
The issue of sexual harassment/abuse has been an individual fight for both sexes and a collective struggle for many institutions all over the global just like the fight we now have with Covid-19 – no cure, no vaccine. I reflect on my own most recent experiences with males feeling the need to send pictures of their reproductive organ. My initial response at the first incident was anger as I felt violated and disrespected. Angry at this unknown male for having the idea that his private part would be attractive to me. As a nurse, organs are organs. What matters is if they can function effectively for the “patient”, in this case the perverted males themselves and would they be able to satisfy another as they so claim. So it quickly became a simple anatomy and physiology moment and I dismissed their poor disgusting taste in behavior. My words were not nice to say the least and of course a permanent BLOCK and REPORT was done on Facebook. So that was the unwanted picture ordeals and I am sure they will probably continue.
Then there are the unwanted words, “Hi Hon, Hey Bae, Sweetness, Hey you up, Can we talk?, … ” and unwanted messenger calls at weird hours of the mornings and nights simply because the world of technology makes it so easy to communicate to anyone, anywhere at any time. I recall the “hissing of the teeth” that was used some years ago. But some men have become way too darning to share pictures because technology is at their disposal and repeating unwanted words day after day. Being self-aware and not allowing each single unwanted words to upset my day, I have always had a controlled response in the past that I still use to this day. The unwanted pictures caught me off guard. But I generally utter some kind words in response to what would be unwanted “greeting” or “compliments”. Some simple word spoken kindly but firmly that command respect for me as I do not allow myself to become a victim of somebody’s acid. Those words are usually, “Good morning Sir!” or “God Bless you Sir!” These words most often than not, have had the effect to stop the perpetrators in their tracks and not another unwanted word said or gesture done.
These simple words have changed the reaction of many men who uttered unwanted words to me over the years. I recalled, a man said, “Nobody has ever called me Sir before Miss”. That struck up a conversation that I hope would have changed his life forever. In that brief street side stranger meet stranger conversation, I learnt a lot of his rough childhood, and as I listen non-judgmentally, the concept of self-respect, self-esteem and self-love were parting blessings over him. Not all men would be as receptive to this response, but I am happy they generally do! To the few that didn’t, I disregard the actions and say a prayer in my heart for them. But all this is just one person’s experience with sexual harassment and being self-aware.
But when the bell sounds an alarm of an institutional issue of alleged reports of extortion, maltreatment, sexual assault and sexual advances in a pillar institution such as the Belize Defense Force (BDF), this calls for an immediate comprehensive investigation with what should be immediate disciplinary actions to stabilize the core values that the institution represents to the nation. The institution being the soldiers of course, as the barracks cannot perform the core value of freedom, equality, trust, community, collaboration and usability.
The report made in January 2020 by the brave 50 females BDF recruits, is by no means indicating, that the Belize Coast Guard (BCG) and the sister institution the Belize Police Force (BDF) are not plagued by these same issues. But as a nation, to date, based on how sexual harassment, sexual abuse and the like are handled with victims being seen as the trouble maker, fewer and fewer men and women, will come forward to get the help they desperately need. The press release by the Ministry of National Security issued June 1, 2020, at 3:30 pm, almost five months after the reports were made by the BDF recruits, does not indicate that the 50 cases were investigated as a priority. When the tragedy occurred with the helicopter, an investigation was launched and a report was provided to the public almost within two weeks or less. Whether we were satisfied or not as a nation with that report is any matter. We lost some of our most skilled men in that tragedy.