Calls for specific laws to address sexual assault

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Attorney Warren Cassell has suggested that residents need to pressure parliamentarians in Antigua & Barbuda into updating the specific laws that deal with sexual harassment.
He said such acts are only taken seriously when strong laws are in place to protect the victim, something he said is badly needed here in Antigua & Barbuda and in the wider Caribbean.
Cassell said depending on the position the accused holds in society, the situation becomes   more troubling – the higher the office, the more likelihood there’s inaction.
“As a society, Antigua needs to put pressure on those in Parliament, and say ‘hey this is where we want to go’. Those are the ones that are responsible in terms of passing laws,” Cassell advised.
He also suggested that lobby groups in the country should take the lead in this effort.
Director of Grenada’s Legal Aid Couselling Clinic Tyrone Buckmire is also of the view that the laws on sexual offences overall ought to be changed.
He said school children should also be educated about unacceptable sexual advances in a bid to reduce the scourge and  it wouldn’t reach as far as becoming a problem in the workplace.
“We are finding that predators are going after younger and younger children. We have had situations in Grenada in the recent past, where children as young as nine months old, 19 months old have been sexually violated, so the information needs to be out there,” Buckmire said.
“The laws need to be updated across the board, but when they are updated, there must be public awareness around them, there must be campaigns that inform persons about the changes for the victims and also the people who report,” he added.
Buckmire also added that imposing stronger penalties will send a stronger message to perpetrators.
The 2016 State Department report on Human Rights in Antigua & Barbuda indicates that sexual harassment is not specifically defined in law.
The report said the country, is however, a signatory
to the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (the Convention of Belem do Para), which recognises sexual harassment as a form of violence.
It also added that according to the Ministry of Labour, there was a high incidence of sexual harassment in the private and public sectors, but no cases were formally reported during the year, and the lack of reporting was believed to be a result of concerns about retaliation.
(More in today’s Daily Observer)

Female rights activist Zahra Airall

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