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Raffique Shah


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Sexual misconduct haunts public figures

By Raffique Shah
November 16, 2017

Amidst an avalanche of allegations of sexual misconduct against a phalanx of prominent men, mostly in the USA, but also in other developed countries, one can anticipate a similar surge here in Trinidad and Tobago, although our litigation procedures are more constrained, some might argue restrictive, than in those jurisdictions. I argue, too, that cultural differences influence the way the local public, if not the courts, view such allegations.

The common thread in most of these cases is that the alleged violations took place many years ago, rendering prosecution of the culprits, if they are indeed guilty, a challenge. In the case of comedian/actor Bill Cosby, the alleged rape took place in 2004, but his accuser did not report the serious crime until one year later. The prosecutor filed charges 11 years later, in 2015, and the trial, which ended in a hung jury, concluded in June this year.

Cosby's accusers, scores of whom emerged after charges were filed in 2015, with similar claims of being drugged then raped, had stayed silent for decades, One wonders why. Mostly, they say that Cosby had such a powerful personality, they were afraid to report the crimes and face ridicule or worse.

Harvey Weinstein's case is similar. As a powerful movie producer who could make or break acting careers, the women who were chasing their dreams of Hollywood stardom suffered the violations in silence. Only when one victim dared to speak out did the floodgates open and Weinstein was exposed as a serial abuser of women.

Indeed, when the Weinstein-gates were breached publicly, scores of other high-profile male celebrities and executives holding wide-ranging portfolios faced similar charges. Many have resigned. Few have admitted to their indiscretions or crimes. And based on the sheer momentum of the exposés, it has become a global phenomenon, hence my assertion that it will soon erupt in this country.

There are, and have always been, many powerful men in this country who have abused their offices by demanding sexual favours from mostly young women in return for jobs, promotions, etc. They range from debonair executives to repulsive old geezers, and in one instance I personally know of, a late, revered religious leader who was 40 years older than his intended victim!

Invariably, because the society places value on outward appearances, such predators warn their hapless preys: don't tell anyone...they won't believe you.

Not related to what I have written above except our cultural disposition, back in 1994, then Leader of the Opposition, Basdeo Panday, faced five charges under the Sexual Offences Act, including attempted rape. His accusers were three young women employed at the UNC's office in Couva. The magistrate completed hearing the matter before the 1995 snap general election called by then Prime Minister, Patrick Manning.

He also, wisely in my view, made his decision before the election date-but reserved reading it until afterwards, so as not to influence the voting one way or other. The UNC and PNM tied in terms of seats in Trinidad, with Ray Robinson's two Tobago seats being the deciders. Robinson joined with Panday, thus making him Prime Minister.

One week after the election, the magistrate declared Prime Minister Panday not guilty. What was instructive was not the verdict. It was the fact that with such a serious charge pending, Panday's UNC increased its votes from 157,000 (29 percent of votes cast in 1991) to 189,000 (42 percent). Quite likely, the majority of his supporters were women.

Many other allegations of sexual offences or harassment or discrimination have been levelled against local politicians, corporate executives and other men of influence. But none has so far reached the courts. In the wake of what looks like a global catharsis of sorts with respect to men abusing their powers by sexually exploiting ambitious young women, many victims might be tempted to pursue their plights by going public or taking legal action.

They should tread cautiously, though. It's not that I don't want them to nail the lascivious monsters who are no better than common criminals parading as pillars of the society. I sound this warning because people would justifiably question the time-lapse between the violation and the initiation of action-except if the victim was a minor at the time.

I am mindful, too, of a significant number of women who, in reverse roles, use their charms and sexual favours to climb the corporate ladder, convinced that the horizontal position fast-tracks vertical ascent, Such women are as culpable as the lecherous men who hold high offices.

One way or other, given the copycat society we live in, we can expect an eruption of allegations of sexual misconduct, mostly against men who are public figures, and especially the wealthy. Because, make no mistake about it, targeting Cosby, Weinstein and 300-years-old Sepp Blatter (for “groping”, which must be all he could do in the past 50 years!), is more about money than justice.

So, fellow geezers, jog your fading memories, think back 40, 50, hell, 60 years, faces and names you may have forgotten: they are coming after you...! Hobble. Hide. But please, don't try to run!

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