Sexual harassment and sex for grades: Some self-evident truths

PHOTO: thewilsonbeacon.com

PHOTO: thewilsonbeacon.com

The recent come-and-chop offer made by a female student to her lecturer at Nekede Polytechnic, has reloaded the contentious issue of sexual harassment (SH), to the front burner. The student had boldly written an application to her lecturer, in her script, asking him to get in touch if he was interested in the business. The reaction has been as diverse as the commentators but this development has authenticated the reality that lecturers are also subject to sexual harassment. Of course, the girl in question is clueless, with little intellectual content or else she should have gone about this proposal in a more subtle, covert, manner.

My first intervention on this subject matter was in July 2013, after female students of Creative Arts Departments of UNILAG demonstrated against SH by their lecherous lecturers; mentors who had transformed into tormentors, terrorizing them with their ready-to-fire instruments. That demonstration occurred barely a month after Professor Kolo of ABU Zaria was convicted for sexually harassing a pregnant, married woman.

Then, I had recalled other related incidents across universities that had come to my attention in the previous one year. In a tier-1 federal university in the South West, a female student had entered a lecturer’s office, locked the door, brought out a pack of condoms and handed it over to the lecturer! In the same university, a student had approached a young lecturer declaring her love and asking what it would take to ‘capture’ him. There was also a case of a female professor who asked for settlement in kind from a male PG student after which the student had issues with his results and protested! While I did not mention names then, the names are now everywhere for any interested party.

The Delta State University recently (August 2016) sacked six lecturers for SH. It was in the same university that a lecturer was caught in the act at Wembley Hotel in an attempt to have it with a student, Esther Omokinovo. On 21/10/16 the Ebonyi State University suspended a senior lecturer over the same case. A year ago (10/9/16),The Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Calabar, Prof. Ndifon, was suspended for sexually assaulting a 400-level student in his office. These and many more may be the reason why Senator Omo-Agege and 46 others proposed a bill prescribing a five year jail term, without an option of fine, for randy lecturers.

The bill ciminalises amorous student-lecturer relationship, and the lecturer is considered guilty even when the female student agreed to do . The offences include having sexual intercourse with a student, demanding sexual intercourse a condition to the giving of a passing grade. solicits sex from or makes sexual advances at a student when this results in an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for the student, cooperates in the commission of sexual harassment by another person, grabs, hugs, rubs or strokes or touches or pinches the breasts or hair or lips or hips or buttocks or any other sensual part of the body of a student, displays, gives or sends sexually explicit pictures to a student, if he whistles or winks at a student or jokes or makes sexually complimentary or uncomplimentary remarks about a student’s physique.’

Most of the subsections were direct at HE and I wonder how many lecturers will escape this dragnet. Of course, the bill readily earned the endorsement of Nigerian Female Students Association (I never knew such a body existed), which stormed the Senate, to show their unflinching support to the Bill. We still thank God for His mercies. After all, the bill could have recommend castration for any guilty lecturer or that only eunuchs should be employed as lecturers in our universities.

Legally, SH is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other conducts of sexual nature when it becomes a condition for employment, employment decisions, affects work performance or creates hostile/offensive work environment. It becomes unwelcome when the victim considers it unwelcome. Instances include unwanted letters, telephone calls; sexual jokes, calling one babe, or honey, whistling at someone, touching an employee’s clothing, giving personal gifts, looking a person up and down (elevator eyes), staring at someone or following the person. Quid pro quo harassment is when decisions are based on the acceptance or rejection of unwelcome sexual advances. Furthermore, the harasser may not even know that the action constitutes SH and both parties may be of same gender. When staring, telephone calls, calling somebody baby and giving gifts become instances of SH, then, we are all guilty!

Now, back to the issue at stake, the fact is that there is SH in the universities-seeking, compelling or offering sexual favours in a quid-pro-quo manner. The compelling variant is the most abhorrent. Many female students are also not as innocent as they sound; they offer! But even if they offer, the lecturer is not bound to accept. Even when there is a consensus, amorous relationship between lecturers and students is not very desirable; it creates a dysfunctional learning environment. Only a rare breed can be objective in grading the scripts of a student whose garden he had ‘cultivated’. Those most at risk of compelled SH are the borderline female students; those who actually have no business being in school because they don’t have the requisite capacity and discipline. But how do we separate SH from other lecturer-student relationships? Some lecturers are married to their former students. How do they get to the I do stage if they didn’t start somewhere?

Yes, lecturers harass students and students harass lecturers. I believe that the female students are the guiltier parties. Either way however, it is not right: legally, morally and professionally. But that is the trend in banks, Nollywood, in the markets and the civil service. It is a global problem. However, no lecturer dares harass an intelligent and committed female student. Even then, there are avenues for civilized protest when one is being hounded for sexual favours. The problem is that most of them will not protest because they have no confidence in their abilities and are rather willing to negotiate for marks wherever possible. And when a female student offers to do whatever it takes to pass an exam, then we all know what the end of discussion would be.

Whatever the case, we must be aware of these self-evident truths. i) It is not only lecturers that initiate this business. Indeed, the question is: who is harassing who? As shown in the Nekede case, female students also offer willingly. ii) Male students are also subject to SH and in this man-to-man marriage era, it is even more complicated. iii). As the case of Queen College Lagos has shown, it is also prevalent in secondary schools. A study by Envualadu et al (Sexual abuse among female secondary school students in Jos, North Central Nigeria) has shown a prevalence rate of 27% among secondary school girls. Just last week Olamilekan Enilolobo, was arrested for teaching a 12 year old student with his penis. iv) it is not limited to educational institutions; it is everywhere including the NASS and the churches.

SH in whatever guise, is condemnable. Female students do offer but some are compelled. Even if it is only one person that is compelled, that is bad enough. Students should be ready to do what it takes to make their grades- unadulterated hard work. And anyone who is harassed can protest and get justice but she/or he must go to equity with clean hands. They also have other ways of exposing the offending lecturers. However, we must appreciate the above self-evident truths as we seek a holistic solution to the problem. If we act as if it is only lecturers that misuse their instruments of disfigurement; as if it happens only in tertiary institutions, as if the females are the only victims and if all of them are helpless victims, and as if it exclusively involves members of the opposite sex, then, we are far from the answer.

Muo, PhD; is of the Department of Business administration, OOU, Ago-Iwoye

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