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Can you draw the line between flirting and sexual harassment

By Bunmi Sofola

IT was the end of the day and the office was virtually deserted. The deputy chief accountant was still at his desk. A comparatively young man for the job title pinned on his office door, he jumped nervously when he heard the shrill sound of the bell. He knew whose fore-finger was on the buzzer.

His immediate boss, a woman whose sexual appetite was absolutely insatiable.

“Have you completed the compilation of those figures?” she purred when he went into her office, eyes smouldering like a school girl on heat. He was really getting fed up with this middle-age woman, whose sexual prowess surpasses any young chick’s.

He wished he could have the nerves to tell this simpering specimen where to get off. But where would he get the nerve to? All he has was some two-beat certificate from a not-so-reputable institution in the USA and the ‘project’ madam insisted he should hang around to discuss with her was a compilation of staff’s travelling expenses for the quarter!

But then, he knew all that discussion lark was a ruse for the casual invitation that would follow. And it came almost immediately. “You poor thing,” madam cooed, “you must be hungry, I’ve asked Musa to get dinner ready at the guest house. The driver will take us there now then come back to pick your car….” It’s been going on for about nine months now and Taiye, the deputy chief accountant, still smirks from the humiliation of it all. Once in a while madam would taunt him with some younger and more good-looking studs who are members of staff and all he could do was wait in the wings like an obedient dog waiting for his master’s favours….

A lot of hue and cry have always been made over men who sexually harass the supposedly weaker female sex. It is no secret that sexual harassment is a form of bullying. It is disgusting and cowardly. And that is it! But what exactly is sexual harassment? As someone aptly puts it: “In one kind of office (well, media offices for example), it is a routine for the staff to sit around on one anothers’ knees and flop their heads on the nearest bosom and yet nobody has the remotest inclination or ability to take it any further.

‘In another kind, (say banks, for instance,) everyone acts so repressed that the slightest graze of an elbow on the way  to the computer room becomes charged with sexual meaning!

Within the same office, tastes vary. A remark which might be met by one girl with a pleased ‘ooooh, Mr. Peters, you are a rascal!’ May be interpreted by another as just two doors down from rape. Some deep thinkers have a simple rule-of-thumb: that flirtation is what you do with pretty women and harassment is what happens to ugly and embittered ones. I suppose if you want a rough guide, a flirt is a man who tries to make his victim glow happily beneath his flattery and stops if she doesn’t. A harasser, is one who either wants to make her squirm or almost worse, someone, who is so insensitive that he doesn’t notice how she feels at all.

“And if men are to be brought to book for sexual harassment what about women? Some years back, a company had this female doctor on its list of consultants. A young executive went to see her and that was the beginning of very steamy sex sessions. The man was very elated at his good fortunes to start with, but he went and spoilt it all by getting married.

That put paid to the freedom of his flat and time. In fact, he begged off the affair.

But ‘madam,’ was so bitter she plotted the downfall of her ex-lover. Luckily, he found a better job and happily resigned!


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