‘We don’t do that here’: Belize military enacts new policies amid sexual assault allegations

Brigadier General Stephen Ortega, Commander of the Belize Defence Force. (Photo: LoveFM.com)

The Belize Defence Force (BDF), while insisting it does not have a culture of sexual assault, has assured that it is implementing a sexual harassment policy.

BDF Commander Brigadier General Stephen Ortega, at a press conference on Friday (June 19), explained that even in the face of one or two isolated cases, “to continue to say that there is this culture of sexual assault and allegations, I don’t believe it is a culture.”

“It may be one-off or two-off incident that we try and address immediately because that is not something that we want to perpetrate here in the force,” he added.

The denial by high ranking officials of the BDF comes nearly a month after the Ministry of National Security said an investigation into alleged reports of extortion, maltreatment, sexual assault, and sexual advances at the Training Company has resulted in wrongdoing and negligence by personnel within the units involved.

Among the recommendations of the independent investigative team is for another probe to truly ascertain the scope and gravity of sexual violence within the BDF.

“Well, it will be somewhat impossible for the BDF to say that we are going to do an investigation into anyone who would have had some allegation of a sexual harassment. That would have to be ideally coming from those who were the victims. And once that would have arisen, we would have the mechanism in place to deal with it,” Ortega told the media yesterday.

Ortega, specially inviting the press to speak on the matter of sexual assault within the BDF, said he doesn’t believe the issue is widespread. (Photo: Channel 5 News, Belize)

“Thus, the purpose of the sexual harassment policy but we can’t go individually were you sexually harassed or something to that effect but it has to be that individual who brings it to someone’s attention or in the case of the policy we have those persons who could become complicit. So, if it is, for instance you are working within a unit and you have been observing certain behaviours, you have a duty to do certain reports. And that is essentially what the policy indicates and the mechanism how we move forward from this point forward,” he added.

In its statement earlier in June, the National Security Ministry noted that its investigation recognised that some progress was made in response to the victims of the alleged misconduct; highlighting the need for more targeted organisational and strategic changes for progress to continue.

One of the measures being implemented is the Belize Defence Force Sexual Harassment Policy, a seven-page document the BDF has drafted to support a “safe environment for all of its soldiers, officers, and civilian employees free from discrimination on any ground and from harassment at work including sexual harassment”.

The plan defines sexual harassment and outlines both informal and formal complaints procedures.