A Belize Defence Force recruit has reportedly lodged a complaint against a senior officer on the grounds of sexual assault and the abuse of authority. Love News understands that the matter is under investigation and that no charges have been filed as yet against the accused persons. The report is that the recruit, who is expected to graduate tomorrow at Price Barracks, was sexually assaulted by a senior training officer. We understand that a complaint was made previously but fell on deaf years. It wasn’t until Tuesday when another complaint was lodged that an internal investigation was launched. According to the Brigadier General Stephen Ortega, they are taking the matter seriously and an internal investigation is currently underway. Since the story broke, a petition has been brought about asking for the intervention of the Human Rights Commission. Love News spoke with Retired BDF Captain, Derecia Jael, who recalls her time in the force when she too was sexually harassed.
Derricia Jael, Retired Captain, Belize Defense Force: “I remember my time in the Belize Defence Force as a woman and how lonely it was when I had to deal with my sexual assault allegations and the repercussions and stigma that was imposed on me for choosing to take it through the courts of Belize as opposed to having the Belize Defense Force deal with the issue. I felt it was very important for the Human Rights Commission of Belize to step up and to do what they’re mandated to as a national body to look into these human rights violations, not only the sexual assault but also the abuse of power that has been reported against the training staff at the Belize Defense Force. It’s been years since these allegations have been made there have been numerous intakes where we’ve known that different human rights violations have occurred. We’ve seen where people have claimed that the training became ‘soft’ because they were not able to impose some of the inhumane treatment, however now we’re looking at the reality of sexual assaults being a part of what is the undocumented recruit training particularly to the women in the Belize Defence Force and the potential women who should enter the Belize Defence Force. I’m hoping by this petition and getting the Belizean population to sign on to this we can get the Human Rights Commission, who I’ve been trying to reach out to for the entire day, to step up and actually make a commitment to ensure that not only within the Belize Defence Force but within other armed forces where women are employed that policies and structures are put in place to protect us as women. We come home to our children, we come home to our husbands, we come home to our partners and we bring along the stress that has been imposed on us while we are doing our duty. When we look at national security it goes beyond just walking the borders, it goes having a strong resilient and sound minded force and by us imposing these issues on our women and soldiers we see that the mental capacity of our troops walking the streets, walking the jungle is slowly deteriorating because of having to fight these invisible wars, wars where people are not physically seeing the impact of what people face day to day. For me it was a lonely one and I’m hoping by having this petition signed and having the Human Rights Commission and other human rights NGOs step up and demand that something is done to change the structure of the Belize Defense Force to not only preserve our soldiers but to support our mothers, our daughters, our sisters who have enrolled in these organizations.”
Sexual harassment in the workplace particularly in the security forces is nothing new. Back in 2016, a scandal of sexually harassment broke from within the Gang Suppression Unit where female officers had alleged that their male counterparts were making unwanted sexual advances at them. The matter was settled internally using means of departmental transfers. We will keep following the developments at BDF’s Price Barracks and keep you posted.