Njundu Drammeh

It is either quid pro quo sexual harassment or very hostile environment sexual harassment. Regardless of whether the harasser considers the behaviour to be offensive or not, conduct becomes sexual harassment when: it is forced upon a recipient against their will, the recipient makes it clear to the harasser that he/she does not approve of the behaviour, and the harasser persists.

It is unwanted sexual advances; demands for sexual favours in exchange for favourable treatment; threats and demands to submit to sexual request in exchange for obtaining or retaining any grades or scores; sexual invitations, propositions, suggestions, insulting obscene comments or gestures or other verbal abuse of a sexual nature; graphic, verbal commentary about a lady’s body, sexual prowess or sexual deficiencies; flirtations, leering, whistling, touching, pinching, coerced sexual acts or blocking normal movements.

Our ladies, young and old, literate or non-literate, at the work place or market or on the streets, constantly face sexual harassment, and sadly from men, old and young. It spans across, in public, private and NGO spheres and in our academic institutions. A head of an institution or Human Resource Manager is requesting for a date or a night in a motel before the lady gets that job. A supervisor is asking for a night out before she gets that promotion. A boss is willing to put her on that trip abroad to get the per diem if she agrees to be her concubine for the duration of the trip. She cannot make it on the final list which is approved for peace keeping because she refuses the sexual advances of her superiors or the one on whose desk that buck stops. A male colleague is sending her lewd pictures or making the workplace hostile because she refuses or turns down his advances. The lecturer gives her a D or F in that subject because she refuses to satisfy his sexual libido or at worst claims she did not hand in her exams papers. (And young ladies have shared all these experience with me and many blood chilling and horrifying stories and experiences)

And you dare laugh off or minimalise the pain and anguish of the lady who dares to speak out? Think again. Are you pooh poohing her story because she is not your sister or you are one of those who think that women cannot be believed in any story which is sexual?

It takes courage, a lot of it, for a lady to publicly reveal that she is or has been a victim of sexual harassment. Many are quite because they know they would be blamed for bringing the harassment on them; for inviting it upon themselves; for the way they dressed; for wanting easy lives or for being of easy virtues. ‘Let’s hear the other side’, the men would say. ‘You are speaking out because you could not get what you wanted’, others would shout scornfully.

And we expect a victim to speak up and out, when the reaction is almost certain to her? Think about it.

Where she expects empathy, she gets ridicule. Where she expects understanding, she is insulted, mocked at, called names. Where she expects justice, she receives tons of blames and accusations of trying to ruin the career of a ‘good’ man and is asked to corroborate her story, to bring witness. Her report is suspect; she cannot be trusted.

If she speaks out and up; she is looking for attention or is on an avenge spree. If she keeps quiet, she loves what is happening to her. ‘Why didn’t you speak out at the right time? Why now?’ she is asked. Check your reaction and attitude to victims.

It is interesting that nearly all of our institutions, public, private and civil society, do not have Sexual Harassment Policies in place. Where they exist they are either unknown, never popularised and never implemented or enforced. Reporting procedures are absent or if they ever exist, no one can report because focal points are not trusted or investigation procedures are unclear. Complainants are left at the mercies of violators or accusers, the words of a young lady against the ‘status’ and powers of a ‘big man’. Many complaints endure the harassment, in silent and extreme agony. Trapped, in a vicious cycle of abuse and intimidation.

Hear the victims and survivors:

“They remind us that creating a protective space where survivors can speak their truth is an act of liberation. They remind us that bearing witness, even within the confines of that sanctuary, is an act of solidarity. They remind us also that moral neutrality in the conflict between victim and perpetrator is not an option. Those who stand with the victim will inevitably have to face the perpetrator’s unmasked fury. For many of us, there can be no greater honor.” J.L. HERMAN