The Legal Office, nor Employee Relations, should deal with sexual harassment, the report by Norton Rose and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies recommended last week.
This was revealed in the final sexual harassment report. The report also said that some sexual harassment complainants were told, “you realise if you go ahead with this you’ll be ruining this person’s life; are you prepared to do that?”.
“In our view the Legal Office is simply tasked with too many disparate roles to address sexual harassment claims comprehensively,” the report suggested.
The Legal Office and Employee Relations were exposed for not having any expertise or training in the field of sexual harassment or gender issues.
“The perception is that it is not necessary for specialists to be brought in to handle these matters, either because they are not important, or because the Legal Office currently consists largely of female attorneys, and it is believed that sexual harassment is a ‘woman’s issue’, which can be handled by any woman,” read the report.
Three particular areas were highlighted as competing interests for the Legal Office in sexual harassment issues: the university’s reputation, the complainant’s interests and the interests of the alleged perpetrator.
The report also perceived that there was a universal view that the Legal Office did not pursue difficult cases.
Complainants reported that they feel as if their issues vanished into a “black hole”.
However, the report did concede that the Legal Office had good intentions. The Legal Office’s mixed response to sexual harassment was “the result of an immeasurable overload of responsibility on the Legal Office, coupled with deficient training”.
The report found that the sexual harassment approach of the Legal Office is one which is “overly legalistic”.
In addition, staff members complained that the Legal Office told them not to speak to students about sexual harassment.
The inquiry recommended that the Legal Office should be restricted to dealing solely with the university’s interests.
Legal Office response
Prof Andrew Crouch, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic responded as follows: “My colleagues at the Legal Office and I fully support the principles which underlie the Report on Sexual Harassment released on the 4th of September 2013.
We are mindful of the nuanced nature of sexual harassment.
We have always been and remain committed to assisting and supporting complainants whose matters fall under my jurisdiction.”[pullquote align=”right”]Complainants reported that they feel as if their issues vanished into a “black hole”.[/pullquote]
Prof Crouch added that the legal office supports complainants throughout and calls upon psychiatrists where necessary as well as, “implement practical measures to keep the complainant and accused apart from each other while the relevant process unfolds”.
The report revealed that the uncertainty between the role players was plentiful as to who was responsible for investigating claims of sexual harassment.
“These conflicting roles lead to a perception that the Employment Relations Office may encourage students to report but the Office is not available to support students through the process,” the report reflected.
In conclusion the report recommended that the Employee Relations office should not deal with sexual harassment because of the conflicted roles.
The report also revealed that intuition was used when dealing with sexual harassment as opposed to a “prescribed manner”.
“Often the policy is not consistently pursued due to a lack of practicality, time and certainty”.
[pullquote]“Often the policy is not consistently pursued due to a lack of practicality, time and certainty”.[/pullquote]
Lack of resources was another factor in the poor response as there were only two human resource officials at Wits.
“Various persons, who came before the inquiry, expressed the view that Employment Relations indicated that they were burdened by their complaints and did not do their best to deal with the matter.”
The inquiry also received complaints that communication involving follow-ups was reported as inconsistent or absent. The report highlighted inconsistencies, lack of co-ordination, lack of training on the issue, and a lack of resources.
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