General

BDF High Command denies talk of higher incidences of rape/sexual harassment on camp

Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Ortega is poised to be Second in Command of the Belize Defense Force next February when Brigadier General Dario Tapia retires, giving way to Colonel David Jones as the incoming General.
Already, however, it appears that Lt. Col. Ortega will have a lot to address since the Force has been hit by a series of embarrassing reports of rape and sexual harassment occurring on the BDF campus at Price Barracks.
An email circulated by one of the women soldiers alleges that she was a victim of sexual harassment. She provides names of the perpetrators and lists specific incidents.
One of the incidents involves two senior officers, one of whom the e-mail states is known to be HIV positive.
The victim of the rape has not reported to work in more than a month since the incident .
It is a disturbing complaint that Lt. Col. Ortega, who is currently the BDF’s Chief of Staff, must deal with.
This week, Ortega told Love FM/TV reporter, Marion Ali, that he is aware of only one case that goes back a couple years ago and which is now under police investigation.
Ortega also said that as Force Adjutant, he is responsible for any report of sexual harassment or rape. He said he knew nothing of the allegations because no formal complaints have been made so far.
He did say, however, that he knows “of the name of the person that is mention in there (referring to the e-mail) of being HIV positive.  I know that person.”
According to Ortega, that officer is neither being investigated nor is he interdicted. “He hasn’t had any case reported against him in that capacity,” Ortega said.
Regarding the allegations of the female officer not reporting, Ortega said he is aware of one woman soldier who is absent, but he said that he doesn’t know “the circumstances.
Whenever any person goes absent in the BDF, there’s a court of inquiry to determine the reason why that person went absent.”
According to Ortega, the Court of Inquiry “is presently being conducted now but the findings haven’t come back yet.”
Ortega added that the BDF has a policy of zero tolerance for sexual harassment.
Ortega explained when incidents of sexual harassment are reported it “is investigated by a superior officer, and if anyone is found guilty, then they are punished according to the Defense Act.”
But while Ortega says that he is only aware of one such case under investigation by the police, the allegations are many, again with specific names of perpetrators and victims, at least one of whom is willing to go public with her story.
The Reporter intends to follow closely on this developing story as it unfolds.

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