Professor Jackie Dugard encourages staff and students to report any incidents of sexual harassment to her office. Photo: Wits University.
Inappropriate gestures, sexually-charged comments and even jokes of a sexual nature are still fairly common at Wits University despite last year’s high profile dismissals for sexual harassment.
Regarded as “minor” infringements, these incidents are just as serious and need to be reported, says Professor Jackie Dugard, director of the Wits sexual harassment office (SHO).
Dugard spoke to Wits Vuvuzela earlier this week about the less obvious forms of sexual harassment that occur between lecturers, staff members and students.
She emphasised that “unwanted attention, unwanted gestures, touching and comments,” by lecturers to students as well as staff to staff could fall under the “category” of sexual harassment.
“Minor” infringements are “just as important to report as major infringements” because both are “serious offenses that must be taken seriously.”She said the determination of the seriousness of an infringement depends on circumstance and context.
“If we’re talking about the more clear-cut scenario where the attention is unwanted, then anything of a sexist or sexual nature is unacceptable.”
“Sexual harassment is sexual harassment no matter how big or small the allegation,” she said.
Dugard says that all reports of sexual harassment regardless of their nature, are recorded by her team. “We report it all and take it all very seriously so that if there are repeat transgressions we have a historical record that might collectively add up to something much more ‘serious’.”
The newly-formed SHO has already recorded a variety of issues which include “sexist” material being shown by a professor in a staff meeting and incessant commenting about a student’s appearance by a tutor.
Student on student harassment is also an issue that Dugard and the sexual harassment team hope to tackle. As examples of the problem Dugard says earlier this year a case of student on student rape at a party was reported to the SHO. Another case involved the intimidation of a female student by her ex-boyfriend.
Lecturer to Student Contact
Despite the differentiation between offences, Dugard said she is “not sure how helpful it is to categorise or try to delineate too rigidly between serious and minor” infringements because “according to Wits policy, if you violate the Wits code of conduct or any related policies such as sexual harassment… you can be subjected to a disciplinary inquiry and sanctioned accordingly”.
“Anything that falls outside of a professional relationship is not acceptable. In addition anything that falls outside of professional mentoring is not okay, unless it is wanted and reciprocated.”
Dugard said that at the moment there “isn’t an outright ban at Wits on student-staff relationships,” but it is something “being considered” by the university.
“Some universities have such policies in order to eliminate a lot of grey areas.”
REPORT SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Incidents of sexual harassment can be reported to the Sexual Harassment Office on the 6th Floor of University Corner. Call: 011-717-9790. Visit the website of the Wits sexual harassment office
Wits Vuvuzela: Former Witsie is new sexual harassment office head, February 6, 2014
Wits Vuvuzela: Wits academic resigns amid sexual harassment investigations, October 31, 2013
Wits Vuvuzela: Wits sexual harassment inquiry complete, September 4, 2013
by Shandukani Mulaudzi and Caro Malherbe
Prof Bonita Meyersfield outlines some of the key findings from the report. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Wits has pledged to undertake a multidimensional approach to issues of sexual harassment on campus by formulating a special task team initiated by the vice chancellor’s office. These measures and others were announced today at a press conference called to make the findings of an independent inquiry into issues of sexual harassment at Wits University.
Vice chancellor Prof Adam Habib said he takes full responsibility for the abuses that happened at Wits and that the report highlights the failure of the university’s system to address rumours and allegations decisively.
Habib added that the university welcomes the recommendations and will form a Senior Executive Team to start a plan of action on how the issue of sexual harassment will be dealt with, in line with the culture of the institution.
Special Task Team
The special task team will originate from the VC’s office and comprise various experts from within the university including gender specialists, the transformation office, sexual harassment advisors, legal expertise and student representatives.
Habib said student representatives will not be solely from the SRC but from various sectors of the student body.
[pullquote align=”right”]“The inquiry was one of the most difficult tasks for the whole team to undertake because we were dealing with our own university. But it was important and totally worth it.”[/pullquote]
Prof Adam Habib, Kirti Menon and Prof Andrew Crouch field questions from the media. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Difficulties of investigation
Prof Bonita Meyersfeld, the director of the Centre of Applied Legal Studies at Wits was part of the team who compiled the report together with lawyers from law firm Norton Rose. She said this was one of the most difficult inquiries to undertake.
“The inquiry was one of the most difficult tasks for the whole team to undertake because we were dealing with our own university. But it was important and totally worth it.”
Meyersfeld said students and members of staff were initially reluctant to speak to them but in the last two months of the inquiry they were more willing to come forward.
“The emotion involved in both students and staff alike is evident throughout the university and administration. Students felt they were not listened to and not taken seriously.”
[pullquote align=”right”]”There were other perpetrators discovered during the inquiry.”[/pullquote]
Meyersfeld said the students were also worried about following the legal process as they were worried about being re-traumatised by speaking to various entities about the same incident.
Members of staff, although they shared the same sentiments also worried about the threat posed to their careers if they came forward.
Two cases have already been dealt with and the accused persons have been dismissed. Habib said there are two other cases that are on-going.
“Two have been dismissed and another who began investigations will hopefully be released to me tomorrow. The fourth is yet to begin.”
The on-going investigation is that of Prof Rupert Taylor, while the one that has not yet begun is that of Dr Lord Mawuko. This was confirmed by a reliable source who did not want to be named.
SRC President, Sibulele Mgudlwa answers a question from the audience. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
Meyersfeld said while there were other perpetrators discovered during the inquiry. However cases were dealt with on a confidential basis and unless students asked for their accusations to be pursued, they were not.
Habib added: “We pursued various other avenues to get to the bottom of it [new cases]. But in those instances our findings yielded no further investigation.”
Habib thanked the media for blowing the whistle on issues of sexual harassment as this forced the university to take immediate action.