Staff whistleblowers slammed

“Several staff members, who encourage students to report their experiences of sexual harassment, have been victimised by the university.”

This was the damning assessment of the treatment of staff members who attempted to blow the whistle on sexual harassment at Wits, as detailed in a report released last week.

The report revealed that Wits staff members felt “sidelined, marginalised” and “silenced” by the university.
These staff members have indicated that they felt like “unprotected whistle-blowers.”

The perpetrators of sexual harassment often accused whistleblowers of participating in a “conspiracy” against them.

“Staff members who have attempted to assist with sexual harassment in the past, have experienced humiliation and silencing by roleplayers, and in some cases been actively labelled by fellow staff-members for causing trouble,” read the report.

According to the report, the “roleplayers” at Wits include the Legal Office, the Employment Relations Office, the Transformation Office, the sexual harassment advisor, Campus Control, Campus Health and university management.

Some staff members interviewed in the report complained that the university did not take a “proactive stance” on sexual harassment and did not deal with the issue.

“For example, in one case, a staff member has reported that a contract worker in partnership with the university has, on numerous occasions, aggressively targeted female staff,” read the report.

“Although this has been reported, to date nothing has been done from the university’s side, and as a result, there has been a high turnover rate of female staff in that department, who simply cannot work under such conditions.”

The report notes that ordinary staff members were at the “coalface” of sexual harassment as students being victimised are more likely to turn to them for help.

Because of this, staff should be constantly trained and supported in their dealing with student complaints of harassment.

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[SLICE OF LIFE]: The power of women

Prelene Singh

Prelene Singh

Things are not always what they seem. Cliché I know. But if we look critically at society, we can see that people are programmed to listen to and believe what is socially acceptable. This is not necessarily anyone’s fault nor is it a shame to admit that sometimes you do not think beyond what is presented to you in the media and the people around you.

With the stirring reports of sexual harassment on our campus over the last few months and the massive problem of rape in South Africa, I started to think maybe there is more to the situation than we force ourselves to believe.

After watching the Carte Blanche television interview on Sunday night with Zwelinzima Vavi, I was surprised to hear his reaction to the rape accusations made against him. He was shockingly forth coming about his endeavours with this woman who made these accusations. He admitted to having an affair with her and apologised for his actions. He also recognised his mistake and took full responsibility for this.

I watched this interview fives inches away from the television screen. I watched for those uncertain twitches, those wandering eye balls and guilty hand gestures; however to my disappointment I did not see them. Vavi was shockingly composed and sincere.

Among the many things he said, one important line stood out to me: people who are in powerful positions often get sexual advances from women in their work space because of their authoritative stance. It’s the whole idea of power relations between people.

I remember a woman who made a significant impression on me. She once said: “There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise.”

I believe that sometimes women are more intelligent, more devious and more strategic than we as a population give them credit for. In this constantly changing and erratic world we live in, people are money and career driven. Women have a particular power which few men can withstand – the power of seduction.

The Victorian era is an example. For those who are not literary enthusiasts, in this era women used their beauty and seduction to gain the highest advantage over men. Beauty was seen as the definition of character and in a day where women were slaves to men, aesthetics was the one thing women used to get their way.

As much as women are the general victims of sexual harassment, sometimes and I emphasise sometimes, it is not only one sided. Women can offer men something they desire in order to get what the woman wants. It may be financial support, career-jumping opportunities or whatever else they need in their personal lives in return for sexual favours.

During my research for all the harassment stories we covered in Wits Vuvuzela, I was repeatedly made aware of this by readers of the paper. Harassment on campus is not just between lecturers and students but also between students and students. I cannot help but think that a university campus is the perfect breeding ground for harassment because of the need to succeed and push forward in life. Here, more than anywhere else, I think it is important to consider that women can and will take advantage of what is presented to them.

By the same token, though, it is still the responsibility of any lecturer – as the person who holds the power in the relationship – to resist any attempts to manipulate them.

A real revolution would be a revolution of consciousness in society.

BREAKING: Fired sex pests named

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