Sexual Harassment can be said to be an unwanted sexual attention or behaviour which negatively affects the work or learning environment. In some cases, this occurs when a person in a position of power uses that influence to force a subordinate into providing sexual favours. The imbalance of power creates a situation in which the subordinate cannot freely say no. In many instances, the behaviour of sexual nature creates an intimidating atmosphere in the learning environment which ultimately disrupts a person’s ability to learn. These kinds of sexual behaviours may be in form of: Sexual touching and/or suggestive looks, gestures and sounds.
In (Nigerian) universities today, sexual harassment has somewhat become a norm. It happens daily and its impact is growing at an alarming rate! The social issue has become a part of the undisciplined minds of both the perpetrators of the act and the victims. These victims succumb to this act for many reasons like:
- They have no one to help them out of the situation.
- The student can be threatened with carry-overs and eventually an extra year.
- They succumb to peer pressure – 'everyone is doing it' and so on.
- Many students do not have the courage to say no and are victimised when they do.
This is KELENA'S story: a victim of sexual harassment.
“I got inappropriate sexual advances from the first week of resumption as a diploma student in the university,” Kelena said.
Kelena narrates her first encounter with her first harasser: ' After a wonderful lecture, I thought what a wonderful way to end the week. I sat on the first front row of the class and the lecturer was still discussing with a student as everyone started leaving the class. When I was about to leave, it was just the lecturer, the student and I that were left in the class.
The lecturer suddenly asked - ‘Did you enjoy the class?’ I turned back with a smile and quickly replied, ‘Yes, Doctor! He continued to engage me in a discussion as we descended the stairs. He asked other questions and eventually asked me to follow him to his office where we had a little chat. He started being flirty but I ignored these signs because I was just really excited! I was talking to my lecturer and I already told myself I could meet him for recaps after lectures and he could be my school father.... I was only 16! After our talk, he let me go and told me I could visit anytime I wanted. I was even more excited.
But the next encounter left me numb. While in his office, he came close to me, squeezed my breasts roughly and went to lock his door. I had become petrified. At that moment, I was scared to my pants but I knew I had to think fast! A thought struck me immediately.
‘Doctor it looks like I’m going to be here for long,’ I’d said with a bold and smiling face. I still wonder how I had pulled that off with all the fear in me. Then I’d told him, I wanted to tell my friend waiting for me outside, not to wait for me anymore. He’d laughed as I approached the door, hitting my butt. ‘Good girl!’ he’d said. That was how I’d escaped.
Immediately, I left his office, I heaved a deep sigh of relief. I was perplexed because I never believed such could ever happen to me in my second week in the university and especially because I was always modestly dressed. I ran to an isolated place to cry, I did not tell anyone because I was ashamed. I stayed away from him as much as possible. I hardly attended his lectures and even when I did, I occupied the back seats (a position I hated). Luckily, I passed that lecturer’s course. That situation passed by but in my second year, I got more advances from lecturers as well. Again, I rebuffed them.
In my third year, I had a friend whom we attended lectures together. During this year, we both got advances from lecturers. It got to a point that my friend, Natalie had lied to her harasser that she was a lesbian and I was her partner. Of course, this story spread like wild fire and we were safe for the rest of the academic year.
I was unaware that I was still about to face my most difficult challenge yet. In the final year in university, it’s only natural that you come in closer contact with your project supervisor, course adviser, and other lecturers. So by default, you have to constantly visit these people’s offices for different purposes.
In my case, 90% of these people that were to guide me to graduation were male. I became even more modest in dressing when going to their offices, avoided eye contact, ensured I did not go to their offices at late hours and observed many precautionary measures to avoid giving out a wrong signal.
Sadly, all my hard work did not pay off as two lecturers kept pestering me for sex; my supervisor and another lecturer from an entirely different department. It was easy to stay away from the one not in my department but it was impossible to stay away from my supervisor. I thought it was business as usual with my supervisor (I could keep stalling till I had nothing to do with him anymore), but it was not....
Read Part 2 here...
By Chidera Okehi