Our tales of sexual and gender-based violence, by teachers

By Kofoworola Belo

Lecturers face sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), but it is not usually reported like when it happens to students. They told KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE why they do not like to talk about experiences that left them traumatised and what can be done about it.

On November 25, the world again began 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.

This year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women came a fortnight after a horrific incident of gender-based violence (GBV) against Mrs. Rahmat Zakariyau, a lecturer in the Department of Microbiology, University of Ilorin by a male student of the same department, Salaudeen Waliu Aanuoluwa.

Salaudeen, who has been expelled by the university following the assault, chased, beat and attempted to strangle his lecturer because she did not let him off for failing to complete the Student Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES).

The case is one of many sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) cases against educators in the school system but one of few that have gained national prominence, says a former dean at the Lagos State University (LASU).

“Starting with gender-based violence, the story of a colleague at UNILORIN comes readily to mind – whereby a student physically assaulted and even beat a lecturer to a coma, to the point of death before she was revived. That was one of too many to be counted when you talk of GBV,” he said.

While SGBV against educators happens at all levels of education, it is least common in primary school and most common at the tertiary education level.

Though stories about teachers, lecturers victimising students sexually dominate the headlines, on the flip side, lecturers – both male and female – also experience sexual harassment and gender-based violence but it is almost a taboo to talk about it.

Silence, trauma, blame

Following the assault against Mrs. Zakariyau, the media reported her attacker explaining that he attacked her because she threw a mug at him.  Despite her hospitalisation as a result of the incident, the lecturer had to defend herself.  She told Daily Trust that she did not get the chance to throw any mug as the student attacked her violently.

She would likely not have spoken about the assault so early if she did not have to defend herself.  She told The Nation on phone that she was not in a state of mind to talk about it as she was traumatised and undergoing therapy.

“I would have loved to share my experience but I am really down.  I am still highly traumatised.  Just yesterday, I had a session with my psycho-therapist.  I am still trying to get over it. The trauma is still so much.  This is not the best time to have an interaction with you.  Give me some time,” she said.

The former dean from LASU said female lecturers, especially early career scholars, are more prone to SGBV because of their gender.

He said male students think they can ride roughshod over them and take advantage of that to intimidate them.

“When you look at our female colleagues, many of them are prone to violence. Many of our female colleagues face such violence in the sense that many male students want to assault them based on their vulnerability and the perceived notion that they are not able to defend themselves as they should be.

“There have been cases like that all over the place – particularly when we have colleagues just coming on board.  The male students tend to harass them in several ways.  not just sexual solicitation,” he said.

The professor said he had to support a female lecturer facing such harassment from her student from the background before the situation stopped.

“I have had situations where younger scholars tell of their experiences, particularly with male students. There have been cases of bullying and sometimes, threatening them into submission.

“I remember one of my young lecturers in the department. She was brought in as an assistant lecturer and then she did her due delligence with examination processes. So, there was this male student who did not do well in all the examination processes, continuous assessment up to the real examination. He was in graduation class. He was always following her and threatening her to influence the grades in his favour against the known ethics of examination conduct. The female lecturer reported the case to me and I told her what to do, asking the student to make his request in writing so that we could implicate him. The student, refused.

Secondly, I told the female lecturer, ‘tell that male student that  is stressing your life that you are not in charge of the course that you are just reporting to me and if you have any case because I am the one supervising her as an assistant lecturer, he should come to me directly; that she had submitted her own part of the exams to me. Any changes at that level can only be made at the supervisor’s  level or departmental level. Well fortunately, for the student, he refused to come up and that was how the case was nipped in the bud,” the former dean said.

Female lecturers have also suffered sexual harassment from male colleagues – both contemporaries and superiors.

Dr. Ganiyat Tijani-Adenle, a communication scholar at LASU, said not many of them come forward to speak about their experiences because they are usually blamed for ‘causing’ the harassment.

“Female lecturers also face harassment from male lecturers. Most male lecturers know the female lecturer is probably married but still approach her.  It may be from someone like a dean that is supervising them who can say ‘I know you are married but this is not going to be continuous thing, just even once, let me just be able to say okay I’ve done it once.’ The female lecturer will just keep delaying and she may tell people to help her beg him without telling them the reason.

“But the thing is most women won’t talk because of our culture.  If you talk, at the end of the day, some might even say how do we know that she has not accepted and done it?”

Dr. Kemi Olurinola, who teaches at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, said she has been lucky so far not to have experienced SGBV from students or colleagues.  However, she said female colleagues who have experienced it could not speak about it because of the criticism that follow.

“I will say God has really shielded me but it happens.

“There is a gist about a particular colleague and another colleague.  She went to get something from the guy’s place and all that. People were like why did she not wait for the guy to bring it to the campus; why must she go to his house to collect it? Though we are in the same department, she did not tell me about the incident. I heard it from other sources.  Because of this kind of things people don’t really talk about it,” she said.

Dr. Olurinola also shared the experience of another colleague who endured sexual harassment from a superior until she was forced to speak up when it was affecting her job.

“A male lecturer, a senior colleague to a particular female lecturer, had been making passes at her and of course she kept ignoring him.  However, there was a time she was supposed to file a particular document that required her to pass through him. He held on to it like a bait.

“It took some intervention from the management because she had to open up finally and they began to talk on the issue, so it does exist,” she said.

While female lecturers are more likely to suffer intimidation from students, male lecturers are likely to suffer sexual harassment.

A  lecturer teaching at a Lagos-based university, who did not wish to be named, said he was explicitly approached by students for amorous relationships on many occasions.

“Many of us experience harassment from students from time to time. The boldest one came physically and asked to befriend me and I turned the proposition down. But when she persisted, I embarrassed her by calling the Sub Dean.  She avoided me until she graduated.

“The second one sent a text message which I took to her class and without identifying her, warned that if I receive such messages, I would identify the sender and read the message in class. The practice stopped for a long time. Obviously, they knew I had to be avoided.

“Recently, one that appeared to be on drugs and could not graduate with her mates sent a WhatsApp message to the effect that she was horny. I promptly blocked her phone number,” he said.

The lecturer also noted that the solicitations usually come from students who are weak academically.

“One characteristic of those who indulge in luring lecturers is that they are the weakest ones academically. The role of the teacher is to stand ‘in loco parentis’ to guide and counsel instead of descending into the mud,” he said.

The former dean said he has also had his fair share of sexual solicitation.

“The one closest to it was when a student came to my office begging for scores to be altered.  She knelt down and in the process grabbed my legs and started rubbing it.

“What did I do? I had a secretary who I quickly called because anything you do there it will just be your words against the student’s and she can turn around and say you were the one that tried to assault her.

“I called the secretary through her personal phone. I had never called her for an assignment on her personal phone. I will rather walk down to her seat and give her instructions. She knew that I was in trouble and I have never closed my door. So, the secretary just opened the door and then walked out the female student,” he said.

The lecturer said the incident left him traumatised.

“I was traumatised. It was something that offends my ethics; it offends my religion; and it offends my sense of justice and fairness. It was a trauma of a sort. Thank God for a good secretary and people that hold on to their principles. But the issue is that if it was not well managed, you remember the story of Joseph in the Bible. It’s a very delicate case because it will just be your word against mine and only God can save you from such environment.”

How to protect lecturers from SGBV

“To check SGBV in the work environment, apart from policies, universities should build more open work spaces that are not fully divided by concrete – like is found in many corporate work places,” the former dean recommended.

He went on: “I feel they should go typical corporate organisation whereby there is transparency in offices, whereby, people stay in their cubicles. They don’t cover up the whole office and hear conversations that are taking place and all of that.

“We could begin to think of a situation whereby staff offices and things like that are not always secluded. I was in a university in Birmingham where if you want to interact with your students, the lecturer comes out. There is usually an open area in the academic environment – like a lobby.

“The lecturer comes out of the open area. He holds his conversation with the student, whether male or female, in public and he withdraws to his office.  So, we could design academic offices in such a way that there is openness, transparency in the way our offices are made. That way, it will reduce the occurrence of verbal or physical sexual harassment  or gender-based violence.”

Apart from various national, international and state laws, various tertiary institutions have sexual harassments policies.

During his tenure as Vice-Chancellor of Osun State University, Prof. Labode Popoola said the university came up with its sexual harassment policy, which he said guides how such cases are treated on campus.

Popoola, who bowed out last month said: “One good thing we did was we put in place what we called ‘ a sexual harrasment policy’. And sexual harassment is not just about a male lecturer harassing a female student. It could be either way. So, the policy clearly states what sexual harassment is and how we can detect same and the penalty. So we took it seriously and every member of staff and student has copies.”

The policy, states that the university is to constitute a standing committee on sexual harassment “to deal with all complaints and incidents, grievances, offences and other related cases,”  The policy stipulates how such cases should be investigated by the committee but does not state the punishment for offenders.  However, it notes that offenders “who has been punished or a decision has been taken to punish him/her for sexual harassment misconduct…shall have the right of appeal..”

Many other tertiary institutions have SGBV policies.  The Rector, Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH), Mr. Femi Omokungbe, said the institution had adopted the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Unified Response Protocol and Referral Pathway and now handles SGBV issues in a manner that protects survivors.

President of the American University of Nigeria (AUN0, Yola, Prof. Margee Ensign, said the institution is one of three in Nigeria that has signed a pact to address SGBV.  She said cases are low in the university because everyone knows what is expected of them.

“We are part of this initiative with only three universities in the country taking part in it.  It is not just sexual harassment; it is bullying; it is intimidation. Anybody found guilty of that is punished so it is a big issue.

While all these policies exist in many institutions, for victims of SGBV to get justice, a professor of communication who does not wish to be named, said they must be able to provide concrete evidence.  Without evidence, they may not be able to face the scrutiny to prove their case.

“There are elaborate processes of handling gender based violence because there are evidences that will show that there was violence against the male or the female. Talking about the sexually harassment part of it, the university has its own processes but you must be able to produce evidences.

“Just like the regular one in the court of Law whereby victim is always traumatized, and they become the ones that will suffer public ridicule and ridicule from the lawyer that is prosecuting the case or defending the case, and many forms of harassments. So, you if you do not have evidences it might be difficult for you to prove.

“But thank God for technology, you can record voices; you can record visuals, conversations even on phone. That way, it is becoming easier to build cases for or against sexual harassment. But if you don’t have evidences, it’s always difficult to prove,” he said.

The work to ensure the school environment is safe for both educators and learners is huge.  However, with increased awareness, experts believe it can be done.

Source The Nation Newspaper

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