What can be done to curb sexual harassment in schools?

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Sexual harassment is a serious problem for students at all educational levels – elementary, secondary, as well as vocational schools, apprenticeship programmes, colleges and universities. It can be described as a gender-based discrimination, victimisation or deprivation that is sufficiently serious. It interferes with or limits students’ ability to participate in or benefit from the institution’s educational programmes.

It presents itself in power based differentials   which manifest in the creation of a hostile environment that breeds retaliation and victimisation. Sexual harassment can be in three forms, viz: sexual harassment of a student by another student, sexual harassment of a staff member by a student, and sexual harassment of a student by a staff member; it can happen to girls and boys.

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Sexual harassers can be fellow students, teachers, principals, janitors, coaches and other school officials. It can be requests for sexual favours or unwelcome sexual behaviour that is bad enough or happens often enough to make a student feel uncomfortable, scared or confused and that interferes with his or her schoolwork or ability to participate in extracurricular activities or attend classes.

The responsibility for preserving an appropriate learning environment to curb sexual harassment primarily lies in school administrators, by making the elimination of sexual harassment a top priority by empowering teachers to take a stand against inappropriate name-calling and sexual comments. It is also necessary to educate students to know the difference between friendly teasing and bullying, between flirting and harassment. Also speaking out and taking punitive action against perpetrators should be encouraged.

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The culture of silence should be discouraged. School administrators should, as a matter of necessity, set up independent panels to which victims of sexual harassment may report incidences of such harassment, establish whistle-blower policies that should involve protection of the victim who comes forward to expose incidents of harassment. It is necessary to state that ignoring the situation can often lead to a cycle of ongoing harassment and victimisation.

Students must learn to be assertive and establish strong personal boundaries. Also parental involvement is critical to long-term behaviour modification through counseling. Students should be discouraged from approaching teachers or lecturers to solicit grades before or after tests or examinations. The reality of such a situation where a student drops in on a lecturer to solicit grades is that it invites such harassment. • Dr. Biola Adimula (Chairperson, Women and Child Watch Initiatives)

I think universities should present the opportunity for female students to come forward and make complaints and there must be mechanism in place for the complaints to be listened to and appropriate steps must be taken.

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Perpetrators of sexual harassment must face the law. They should either lose their jobs or be suspended depending on the level of sexual harassment of female students. In a situation where it is seen as normal for lecturers to harass the female students and get away with it, I think that should stop immediately and lecturers who are engaged in such must be put to shame. It is not the victims themselves that should be made to feel ashamed, but the perpetrators.

I think giving students the opportunity to be able to report will go a long way in curbing sexual harassment and the punishment must be there. •Aisha Yesufu (An activist)

I believe, we are in denial of many things in this country, including sexual harassment. Currently, we are unable to exhaustively define what it means in our context. So firstly, I will recommend that we expressly define and popularise what constitutes sexual harassment within the university space. Secondly, we must address the culture of silence rooted in patriarchy where victims eventually have themselves to blame and justice remains elusive.

We must stop perpetuating narratives that question victim’s friendliness, dressing etc. Thirdly, the university system needs to step up the code of conduct for staff and form of transactional relationship between students and lecturers.

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Lastly, I recommend that each institution open a sexual harassment register among other punitive measures for offenders. We must name and shame offenders to serve as a deterrent to others. •Opeyemi Oriniowo (A development practitioner)

Sexual harassment in schools is a reflection of what is happening in the larger society of ours. There are rising cases of sexual harassment which are unreported because the victims will either play ball and keep it to herself to avoid stigmatisation or refuse the offer and continue to fail the course till succour comes. What is the assurance that the person in authority that you want to report the offence to is also not guilty of the offence?

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The lecturers will always protect themselves, so if you have the effrontery to report a lecturer, his colleagues will be the ones to victimise you. So you may find yourself entangled in a cycle of corrupt individuals. But that does not mean that there are no morally upright individuals among lecturers.

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It must also be stated that sexual harassment has nothing to do with religion because the lecturer at the centre of the recent saga is even said to be a reverend. We have had cases of the so-called men of God taking advantage of wives of their members who came for consultation at worship centres. To me, the solution is dual-faced. One is that students must take their studies very seriously and stop meeting lecturers for help.

Any student dissatisfied with her results can call for her papers, if she is confident. Secondly, the school authorities must be willing to protect students from victimisation from other lecturers that may want to fight back for their colleagues.  There are also possibilities of students conspiring to blackmail a lecturer they had been dating if they felt cheated or let down. So, cases of sexual harassment must be thoroughly investigated and sanctions applied where and when necessary. •Mrs. Nike Ogundele (An educationist)

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Institutions must have a clear policy on sexual harassment defining the meaning, the forms of harassment and the penalties and once this is done, it must be publicised so that the students know what sexual harassment means and lecturers also know the components of sexual harassment and the penalties.

We should also sensitise students to the channels of communication in case there is any incident of sexual harassment.

Once students are aware of this, they will know what to do and know where to go. Also, the counselling units of universities should step up preventive measures of sexual harassment.

I am aware that my university organises talks on sexual harassment, but most students do not take advantage of it. So, we usually infuse it into a programme on love and dating which we do around the Valentine’s Day.

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Also, orientation programmes in universities are important. In my own university, we usually do it for new students where we sensitise them to these things and what to do when they happen. •Mrs. Aderonke Asiwaju (Counsellor/administrator, University of Lagos)

First, teachers or lecturers must see students as their own children. If they see the children as their own, there would be a change in orientation and the aim of a teacher would be towards helping students to actualise their dream and not to force them to do things. They should see students as the future leaders of the nation and if their dreams are not actualised, the future of the country would be jeopardised.

If we don’t train students properly, we wouldn’t be able to bring up the kinds of youths that would be able to venture into areas of their competencies. I have been a teacher for many years and the impact I have made in the lives of students is now speaking for me because I have students across the world who have not forgotten what they were taught and remember how I mentored them. In the university, nobody builds anybody anymore.

The only way to stop sexual harassment or any kind of evil is to ensure that there are serious sanctions. The only way that evil can be curbed is when people know there are  repercussions. Universities should devise a system whereby there are strong sanctions for anyone who crosses the red line because if there is no sanction, people will continue to do it. Universities must also make sure that when the red line is crossed, there are no sacred cows. They must also remember that justice delayed is justice denied.

If there are cases of impropriety against a lecturer, he should be swiftly, transparently, judiciously and objectively investigated and proper sanctions should be applied and where it is actually a made up case, the student should also be sanctioned. •Mr. Christopher Odetola (A school administrator)

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