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I SEE, I WANT, I TAKE.

For a prevalent issue such as sexual misconduct, that is occurring in our workplace, the silence around this topic is still deafening. In this day and age, my heart cringes at the sight and hearing of social attitudes that are still so deep-seated within us, as a society pertaining to this issue, despite efforts to highlight it. For a second, I would have entertained the thought that probably it could not have hit home to excuse the indifference we so cherish, but my mind calls me out immediately. Or maybe we are just not angry enough. Is it still taboo?

I should put it out there that I am not writing this just as another informative piece in my capacity as a forensic scientist, but as a survivor of sexually inappropriate conduct too, who wished she could have done more to gain back her power.

#METOO:

#METOO

He stood by my desk, as his new normal dictated. Small talk here and there. Then his roaming eyes fell on my dress. I could see the sheer smile forming on his face before asking, “Will you have coffee with me after work?” It seemed friendly but my gut knew otherwise. It could be an isolated incident. But how could I report that? Where would the proof be? Asking for coffee turned to demand of hugs upon every chance meeting. My polite Nos were met with his emphatic Just this once.

While I pondered on the next course of action, a lady colleague came by. She must have figured my mind because she hugged me and made me laugh afterward. Then I heard her story too. It was widely rumored within the office that the person of interest had been through a similar investigation and was just given a slap on the wrist. Two weeks off with retention of his benefits due to “lack of evidence”. Now tell me, if you were in my shoes, would you honestly report?

WHERE WE STILL GO WRONG:

While Kenya may boast of a robust legislative framework for dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, its subsequent implementation has little to brag about, if any. Though notable strides have been made legally to ensure that this form of discrimination is eradicated through the formulation of policies, uptake of these said policies are rather slow in many workplaces, with some of these environments not having a sexual harassment policy, to begin with, and where there are, some HR do not circulate them to all members of staff.

It is apparent that many cases of sexual harassment go unreported. Various studies have since shown and attributed the reluctance to report to several factors such as the fear of adverse retaliation by the perpetrator, as well as lack of confidence in the impartiality of the person or persons appointed to resolve such matters.1

As per the Employment Act, Laws of Kenya (Act No.11 of 2007) the employer is given the mandate to not only receive but also investigate and determine reports of sexual harassment. This could be the perfect case of the employer playing judge and jury especially in scenarios where the sexual aggressor has a controlling influence over members of the investigating team. Hence, when a victim formally makes a complaint and follows internal procedures, many times, they are talked out of it, or innuendos of threats ranging from dismissal, career progress stagnation or unfair treatment begin to be echoed in whispers by persons who would have given the courage to push further, and this causes secondary trauma to most victims. This can call to question the neutrality of the internal reporting mechanism, and if the victim is not adequately resolved, seeks an alternative in the form of external third parties to resolve the dispute at hand.

THE POWER DYNAMIC:

Many working environments have succeeded in establishing channels of reporting sexual misconduct. However, these channels have been dogged with power-play as well as corruption.

Suffice to say that most, if not all incidences of sexual harassment all boil down to one thing: Abuse of Power. It stems from the aggressor’s use of power or position of authority to entitle him/herself with access to the victim and to rely on the same by means of promises or threats to fend the victims’ objections to their conduct. Having power over somebody greatly impacts their ability to express their dissent to sexual advances, whether welcomed or not. 

When this power dynamic is then tolerated within systems in the workplace, it becomes increasingly difficult for a victim to effectively report using internal channels due to proximity to power.

WHERE TO RUN:

Many victims have since turned to social media and social media influencers, with many believing in this way their perpetrators would be shamed and the power dynamics might change against the perpetrator and a proper restitution measure is taken there to attain justice. 

Independent Private Investigators:

Some organizations have resorted to retain the services of professional private investigation agencies such as Somo Group. They do this in the hope that by bringing in a neutral expert third party to such a matter, it does not only deal with issues of the time and expertise needed to investigate, but also it minimizes the perception of impartiality coming into an investigation. 

An independent party accords both parties a fair hearing. Most perpetrators are hailed in their respective fields and are given a level of admiration by colleagues. Hence, when a victim calls them out, they would not be easily believed, the reserve is also true in certain cases; in organizations with a past case of sexual harassment, a person in a position of power might be prematurely deemed to have committed the offense because of the power he/she holds. Due to these biases that internal investigation task forces carry sometimes, cases of this nature become less objective, and even when they are, the results are not readily accepted by the apparent losing party. 

CONCLUSION:

Organizations have a responsibility to create an enabling environment that caters to the worker’s well-being, sexually speaking. That goes beyond just having complaint forms and conducting a hearing for formality’s sake or even having posters of abhorrence of sexual harassment on display. It goes into ensuring that the complainant has been addressed fairly with proper timelines to lessen the burden of the trauma that sexual harassment weighs upon. It allows the victim to seek external legal redress without fear of career disruption.

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