Is sexual harassment in the workplace, faith groups or the family part of a bigger culture out there?
Most offences are committed by those who are older and in positions of authority, influence and trust.
Not long ago some of these offences were considered part of the norm or were too culturally sensitive to expose them by reporting them to the Police.
Victims were too afraid to speak out for fear of being victimised and shunned.
Today the situation has changed. Government has led the charge by strengthening the law that deals with offences of sexual nature, particularly those inflicted on the weak and vulnerable like women and children.
We also live in a politically correct environment, which opposes any form of discrimination or harassment.
On this issue, one Government department’s policy, which mirrors the national policy, defines harassment as an act of systematic or continued unwanted annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purpose may vary, including racial prejudice, personal hatred and an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favours.
The policy goes on to define sexual harassment as a form of discrimination and a gross violation of a person’s human rights and human dignity.
It says: “It is any unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated and where the reaction is unreasonable in a situation.
“Sexual harassment is any form of offensive sexual attention that is uninvited and unwelcome. It does not need to be a series of incidents or even an ongoing pattern of behavior. One single act can constitute harassment.
“Anyone can be a victim of sexual harassment regardless of their sex and the sex of the harasser. The office also recognises that sexual harassment may also occur between people of the same sex. What matters is that the sexual conduct is unwanted and unwelcome by the person against whom the conduct is directed.”
In any workplace policy, there should be procedures spelt out on the process to address a complaint.
If an employee is offended by words and actions of a colleague, he or she should directly try to resolve the matter with the alleged offender. If it cannot be resolved then it can be lodged with the management.
Office relationships between employees exist. I can’t say whether they are common or widespread in our workplaces. But if they are mutual or consensual there is nothing wrong with it as long as it does not negatively affect their productivity and the business.
The problems arise if these office or factory romances are extra-marital affairs. Things can really turn ugly.
In the context of the case between a CEO and a woman who accused him of sexual harassment, the national policy should be applied here.
The case should be dealt with on the basis of evidence produced by both sides.
A committee tasked by the CEO’s employer and the Police are conducting parallel investigations.
The committee will decide whether the CEO will continue or be stood down pending more investigations. It will base its decision on the evidence presented to it.
The Police will examine whether the law has allegedly been breached and recommend charges to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Submissions presented by the CEO and the woman should be supported by documentary evidence that should include, audio (online and phone transcripts), video, documents, witness affidavits and other relevant material etc.
This case should be a wakeup call for all, particularly for those in positions of authority.
Do not get into a situation where your position and integrity can be compromised, no matter how tempting it might be
Some managers make it compulsory for a third person to be around when they are meeting someone in the office – that everything they do is transparent.
Those in positions of authority are in the public spotlight. As such they must be prepared to face public scrutiny.
The controversy over allegations against the CEO highlights the growing concern about sexual abuse of our women and children.
If we are to strictly follow the national policy, then men cannot casually pass sexual or suggestive remarks at women on the streets, in the office and anywhere, particularly when they do not like them.
When a church leader is jailed for committing a sexual offence against a female member, we know we have reached a low point.
It is time we change our mindset, otherwise our women and children will continue to suffer. We need to engage in robust discussion on how we can eliminate this evil from our midst.