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Jan 30, 2020

Independent Investigation into Allegations Against B.D.F.; Victim Speaks Out

The Ministry of National Security has launched an investigation into a number of allegations against members of the Belize Defence Force. On Wednesday night, we broke the story about mounting reports of sexual assaults and other infractions committed against recruits. Well, the Ministry says that it is taking those allegations seriously and an independent team has been tasked to investigate the allegations of misconduct of extortion, maltreatment, sexual assault and sexual advances at the Training Company. The release issued states, “The Ministry, and by extension the Belize Defence Force, has a zero-tolerance policy, particularly as it pertains to these types of misconduct. The B.D.F. views every single case of sexual assault as a failure to manage and enforce the standard procedures that are in place to protect the recruits that were in training. This matter will be investigated thoroughly and will be dealt with accordingly.” The Ministry undertook to ensure that procedures are reviewed to prevent any such reoccurrence and will act swiftly to ensure the complaints are investigated thoroughly and those found in violation will be dealt with to the full extent of the law. We were told today that those officers under investigation at the Training Company have been removed and no longer have access to the recruits. We have received a number of reports that say the infractions run deep within the B.D.F. – and way beyond the training school. We are told that women on the civilian staff and low-ranking officers are targets, as well. And tonight we can tell you that there’s one woman who shared her story with us, describing the environment she has had to work in for many years.

 

Voice of: Victim

“Thing have been going hay way with people who wanted to have their way with you. And that is when you don’t want to have their way with you and you don’t let yourself into them, they would use their rank over you not to jeopardize your job.”

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Those are the words of a woman who is a member of the civilian staff at the B.D.F’s Price Barracks. Today, she sat down with me to share the years of sexual harassment, intimidation and verbal abuse that she has been subjected to at the hands of senior officers at the B.D.F. She says one of those officers tried more than once to touch her inappropriately and when she refused, he turned her working environment into a living nightmare. She says she fears that she will be targeted – so we have chosen to keep her identity anonymous. This woman turned repeatedly to higher officials for help.

 

Voice of: Victim

“The first time it happened, I went to the higher person and that person was being penalized but it wasn’t much of a satisfaction to me because all they do is give them extras – extra working days or they put them on charge. Because the first time it happened it seemed like the higher person didn’t really want to do anything about it and I had told the person that I would make it a civilian matter. It was that then when he saw that I was serious because I was crying and it was until then he said, ‘ok, you choose what you gonna do. You wanna give him extras or to be charged and I had to say I don’t know how you guys things work and so.”

 

And the man, who was a corporal at the time and now a sergeant, got only a slap on the wrist. The victim on the other hand became persona-non-grata to the senior officers because she dared to report the predatory actions of one of their own. And in this case, what this sergeant has done is to make her job difficult. She says this man has direct contact with her because of the area she works in – and he uses his influence to target her through her work.  She says she has made several reports – but those who could help turned a blind eye in the B.D.F.:

 

Voice of: Victim

“Being that I work in there, we get some things and so forth and some of them use that as an excuse. If you want something, if they don’t touch you on your private or some of them don’t pat you on your a** or some of them don’t touch you on your breast – yes of course, that is what has been going on in there for years – and if you don’t do that then you don’t get anything from them.  With this young man and me, every time he is picking on me and picking on me – I don’t know if it is because I didn’t take him up on his offer. They are the ones who like to invite you to let’s go to me room – yes – that is how they set it up. Well, I had to mi bring it out.   One day I just outburst. I even took it to the commandant. I didn’t tell him about his harassment. I took the incident to the commandant whereby he was stopping me from getting certain things to deal with my work and the commandant knew about it. So, the commandant said, let him write his report and when it reaches him then we will see.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“What about your report?”

 

Voice of: Victim

“When I told our Sergeant Major about it, I told him I am going to CO because he told me to go see him at 1:30. So, the Sgt Major said, ‘you could go to the CO! You could go to the Commandant! – is what he told me.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, they gave you this idea that whatever has happened?”

 

Voice of: Victim

“Yes, whatever has happened – he could write his report and then he said, “oh you could write your report for all I care! So, nothing would be done! Because if he gives his report and I write my report then he knows that I have to get one and he would have to copy one to commandant and one to the CO. So, in other words he is telling me that when my report reaches there, that will be crashed.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, you feel that this also affects you from doing your job professionally?”

 

Voice of: Victim

“Yes, ma’am. It does. It does.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“I see you look incredibly sad and emotional?”

 

Voice of: Victim

“[Crying] Because nothing gets done about it. [Crying] It’s not that I didn’t want the young man to get his stripe, but I didn’t know he was to get a stripe and I just look on as he became sergeant and it didn’t even reach the commandant. The other guys come and pick up the same trend from others that leave, you know, they rotate.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Do you feel that is the culture there at the B.D.F.?”

 

Voice of: Victim

“Yes, ma’am, that is the culture there and if they have a rank or a little authority over you that is what they use against you.”

 

She describes the effect it has had on her – breaking down in tears – this woman says she feels like a lesser person at the hands of the B.D.F soldiers. She feels hurt; violated and disrespected – and she feels unsafe working among them.

 

Voice of: Victim

“As there is a God above you don’t feel happy. You don’t feel comfortable. You don’t. You just go in to work and you just work because you know you have the work to do but you don’t feel comfortable.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“You don’t feel safe?”

 

Voice of: Victim

“No. No. You just don’t want to encounter the person you already went through thing with.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“How does this make you feel not just as a woman but as an employee there with the B.D.F.?”

 

Voice of: Victim

“He violates - deh mek I feel that we have no rights there. None. As an employee, we have no rights either. They do what they want and it is a cover up for them because the higher-ups cover for them. It just makes me feel like a little less of a person who had rights. It makes me feel like somebody not to be respected because you know they look at me like that.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

 

The investigative team will be led by Assistant Superintendent Sherlette Ramclam, Inspector Shaida Mckenzie, Lead Investigator at the Crimes Investigation Branch in Belize City; Josephine Garbutt, Senior Administrative Officer at the Ministry of National Security; and retired Commissioner of Police Gerald Westby, who is now the Chairman of the Civilian Complaint and Review Board.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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