WE THE PEOPLE undersigned write to express serious concerns with the proposed 12-month limit on the availability of justice pursuable by victims of sexual harassment and call upon you to amend the provision before it becomes law.
Sexual Harassment Bill
seeks to outline the types of conduct that constitute sexual harassment, prohibit certain related conduct, and provide victims with a legally mandated avenue to have their complaints heard in an effort to obtain redress. 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.
Section 25 of the proposed law states that a complaint can be made to the Sexual Harassment Tribunal alleging that an individual or an organization has breached certain provisions outlined within the law.
Section 25 (2) goes further by providing that that complaint must be made within a period of twelve (12) months from the date of the alleged act for it to be considered legitimate. This means that complaints cannot be made after 12 months, even where credible evidence exists.
This 12-month limitation unreasonably restricts access to justice for victims and we believe that it is inconsistent with the purpose of the proposed law, which is to provide protection for victims of sexual harassment.
WE have outlined five reasons why this provision
1. Justice does not have an expiry date. A person who sexually harasses another, whether a student, a patient, or an employee is just as responsible after 12 months as they were in the first 12 months. If evidence exists, then victims should be able to secure justice through the Sexual Harassment Tribunal.
In illustrating the inadequacy of this proposition,
how can someone who damages a vehicle or breaches a contract have up to 6 years to bring the matter before a Court but a victim of sexual harassment, only 12 months? Why should we impose a different and less than ideal standard on matters related to sexual harassment?
2. Institutions should not lose their legal duties to take action because of a lapse of time. A school or hospital should still be compelled to remove a predatory teacher or doctor regardless of when the victim complained. If this provision is upheld, then some major national cases, such as the reported spate of sexual harassment at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, could not be examined by the Tribunal.
3. Victims are not always able to report matters quickly. Victims of sexual harassment, especially those in positions of vulnerability such as a student, a sick patient on a ward, an elderly person in a nursing home, or a child in a residential care facility may not be able to report in time, even where there is evidence because of the power usually wielded over them by persons in positions of authority. Some victims in such circumstances may wait to report an encounter until they are no longer confined by such whereas some victims may wait because, in that moment, they believe that the system is unable to guarantee them justice.
12 months is simply not enough – especially in situations where a student, for example, may need to wait until the next school year of after they have graduated, or an employee may need to wait until she has switched departments.
4. Access to justice is a basic human right. A 12-month restriction is arbitrary and does not have an apparent compelling justification for that specific time frame. It could cut off victims from a viable means of redress for no clear reason and would send a message contrary to the very purpose of the law.
5. Perpetrators and derelict institutions will now be able to wait out their victims. Under this provision, perpetrators or institutions can wait, intimidate or threaten victims for 12 months to avoid any form of accountability. Even worse, a perpetrator may now have a legal defense against efforts to sanction them purely because of the lapse of time.
While we welcome the enactment/creation of such a critical piece of legislation, we are faced with the challenge that the proposed law runs contrary to the spirit and purpose of the statute by undermining the victim’s right to effectively access justice and by ignoring some of the most obvious underlying issues associated with sexual harassment.
WE THEREFORE call upon you, our legislators to reform Section 25 of the Sexual Harassment Bill by either removing the limitation being proposed or where such is deemed absolutely necessary, create a limit that allows for the longest reasonable time for the complaint to be made that is consistent with the limits that already exist for other civil claims.