Today, we revisit the issue of sexual harassment in our society. Recall, the story of the young lady who was intimidated by one of her lecturers into a relationship. After reprimanding her publicly during lectures for indecent dressing, he’d asked her to see him in the office. Some more tongue lashing from the lecturer whom she described as a dirty, religious bigot, he’d thrust a piece of paper at her and asked her to meet him at the address written on it, if she knew what was good for her.
This was barely a few weeks after admission into the university and she did not know what to do. So, sheepishly she’d walked to the slaughter house with her own legs. Her bitter experience was published here some months back.
Today, Bimpe, now a grown up lady, shares her own experience as a young Polytechnic undergraduate some years back. She says she was very lucky to escape the lecherous advances of a lecturer back in school, but not without a price. She says though it might be difficult to eradicate sexual harassment in institutes of higher learning by lecturers, there are cases when female students often initiate or lure the lecturers too.
“Almost everyone of us has at one time or the other, fallen victim to sexual harassment. As far as I am concerned, it is almost like the norm for female students. Male students have their own issues too with them. It is just that they are not required to pay with their bodies ( unless the predator is gay). Many of the male students part with money or they are forced to help the lecturers recruit the girls they want in the class.
Outside of school, there is sexual harassment in the labour market, even in our homes and the society in general. Once one party is powerful and the other is weak, and if the one with the power has a pervert mind, then sexual harassment can occur. The only thing is that each case is compounded by its unique and inherent attributes and the way the victim handles it.
The most serious experience of sexual harassment I ever had was when I gained admission into the Polytechnic to study Mass Communication. I sailed through my first year with so much ease and came out with distinction when the results were published in the first week of the first semester of my second year. I was happy andI determined to keep the flag flying.
Lectures began in earnest and I did my best to attend. I met my waterloo some few weeks later, when one of my lecturers, Mr Owie, (not real name) asked me to see him in his office. I was so scared at first that I didn’t want to honour his invitation. After discussing with some friends, I was advised that it was better I went to see him, than have him come after me again as going there would surely avert serious trouble.
I went to see him, and there the problems that almost ruined my academic career began. What he said really amazed me beyond words. I just kept imagining how a man old enough to be my father would be asking me to date him. He told me what I stood to benefit from being his little baby in school and what I would lose if I refused.
To me, all his benefits were nothing compared with the moral standard I had inside of me and what I felt I would lose. I knew I would not only lose my relationship with God, but also lose my dignity and pride the very moment I accept his proposal. I didn’t even understand what he saw in me since I was a Christian and it was obvious through my mode of dressing. With all these going through my mind all at once, I refused in the best decent manner I could. I gathered all the wits and courage I had inside of me and spoke to him, looking at him in the face and directly into his eye balls. I expressed myself politely and pleaded with him to accept me as his little daughter. Whatsoever gave me that guts till today I still cannot fathom.
He said I was being unnecessarily stubborn and would reap the fruit of my stubborness. I cannot forget his exact words: “when the time comes, you will come pleading on your knees.” Immediately, I rejected the statement in my heart. Although I knew he was ranting because of his hurt ego, I was sure he would soon find another poor soul to prey on. He sent me out of his office with so much fury and I gently sneaked out before he could descend on me. I was trembling with fear when I got to my department.
I kept thinking of his threats and what could become of me should he carry them out. But I consoled myself with the words of God in the Bible and told myself he could do whatsoever he liked, as he would meet the wrath of God. But I wasn’t going to stoop so low to be his girl, neither will I be his prey. I put so much effort in studying and vowed not to give him an opportunity to carry out his threats. I bought his book and handouts as soon as possible and all through the remaining period of the semester he avoided me like a leper too.
Things went on smoothly for a long while and I was sure that I had been able to call his bluff. With time, the first semester was over and we went on vacation. Two weeks after resumption for the second semester, the results of our previous exams were published. When I went to the department’s notice board to copy mine, I found out that out of the eleven courses I offered, I had an omission in one, a three credit load course for that matter. As a result, I had no GP. My next point of call was the Exams and Records department to rectify my problems.
When I got there, I was referred to the lecturer in charge of the course. I went to see him in his office, I explained my problem to him and he said if I had omission, it meant I didn’t write his exams. I knew it was not true and that I wrote all my exams. So, I asked to see the attendance booklet used during exams and he said he couldn’t find it. I asked if there was any solution, he said the solution was to carry over the course in question or better still accept his proposal.
I knew it would not be easy but I believed there would be a way out. I felt so sad and helpless, I cried to no avail, but there was no one to assist me. I went to the Head of Department to complain about my missing script and omission problem, but all he said was that he could do nothing to help me, and advised that I should go and settle with the lecturer in question. Rejected and dejected, I went to the hostel where I resided. For weeks, it was as if I was carrying the whole world on my head. I had no option but to accept my fate.
The time came and I wrote the Carry-over, but when the results were published, would you believe I still had an omission in that same course. I could not believe my eyes. The mere thought of it is still like a terrible nightmare. Then, I knew something had to be done before a mere mortal would ruin my life. I had already lost a whole year and could not afford to lose another just because of the wickedness of a lecturer.
This time, before I went about seeking solution to my problems, I prayed earnestly to God and then went directly to the Head of Department with my other results and explained to him that it was the second time my result would go missing. He said I was not the only one with such a problem and should not read any ulterior motive to it. He promised to help me look into it and asked me to come back in two weeks. A bit relieved, I left his office. I had confidence that something positive would come out of it.
Two weeks later, I went to see the Head of Department and he said my result as well as those of other students in similar circumstances had been rectified. I could go to the Exams and Records to compute them. He said he had spoken with the lecturers on our behalf, and that there was no problem again. I went there, the rectification was carried out and my result was ready. That day was my happiest in that school. Despite all the antics of the devil to destroy my career, I still came out with upper-credit.
I later gathered that Mr. Owie was investigated by a probe panel as a result of the numerous complaints and allegations levelled against him. I never bothered to know what happened to him afterwards. It was because of him that I did not return for my Higher National Diploma in the same Polytechnic. I saw no point in going to torment the lion in his den. It was first time lucky and it may not be so the next time.
I want to believe I was just one of the lucky few that escaped this dirty, dubious character. There are many like him in our higher institutions and thousands of young, innocent girls fall victim to them on a daily basis. Very few escape. For those with money, they can buy their way out. Some other girls do manage to trap them into submission too. While some will just make it through by sheer luck and grace of God like me, it is not all female students who make it through school these days without any problems.
But there is another angle to this problem now. I think many of our girls want to be harassed too. Many of them come prepared that they would be harassed and have made up their minds on what to do. In fact, it is now so bad that some female students are not really interested in working hard for their certificates. They come to schools with the notion that they can wangle their way out through such means. So, rather than wait to be harassed, they set themselves as baits for these lecturers. Some put so much into it that some decent lecturers who did not set out initially with the intention to harass them, end up doing so. That is what is happening now.
Hmm! Can we still call that harassment? Do have a wonderful weekend!!