Whenever and wherever the subject of sexual harassment is discussed, it immediately stirs up different emotions – anger, doubt, resentment, outrage, or even acceptance. The interesting fact, however, is that it is very likely that a large percentage of the people present would have either experienced it at one point or the other in their lives, or they would know at least one person who had. The sad part is that many such people are not usually aware that someone very close to them, officially, socially, or biologically has probably been a victim of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is not new in our clime. It is an issue that has been in Nigerian society for ages and like a neglected wound, has continued to fester due to its neglect till it has almost become a national ulcer necessitating the enactment of more specific legislation than what previously existed to address it.
What exactly is Sexual Harassment?
Merriam-Webster dictionary describes Sexual Harassment as “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature, especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student)”.
In the ICPC Sexual Harassment Policy, it is described as “any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favour, verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct or gesture of a sexual nature, or any other behaviour of a sexual nature that has or might reasonably be expected or perceived to cause offence or humiliation to another”.
In layman’s terms, it may also be described as an actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, power, or trust for sexual purposes including but not limited to profiting monetarily, socially, or politically.
The major elements are (a) Desire on the part of the perpetrator to elicit some sexual benefit from the victim, (b) Lack of consent by the victim, (c) Unequal footing of parties – whether by physical strength, work placement, or any other form of authority, and (d) use of the position of power negatively to gain some form of satisfaction sexually or make the victim experience some discomfort or some suffering due to his or her gender.
The definition of the term has been expanded to include any form of discrimination based on one’s gender or perceived sexual orientation. It could also be used to describe a situation in a work environment where a superior officer uses his position to intimidate a junior officer to demand or receive sexual gratification from the latter.
A superior officer may overtly or covertly state that the receipt of such gratification would have a direct or indirect bearing on the work environment of the junior officer. For instance, failure to respond positively to the demand could lead to denial of benefits like promotion, certain allowances, a good performance appraisal, training opportunities, or any other benefit that should, all things being equal, ordinarily, accrue to the junior officer.
It is important to note that this act can be perpetrated directly or through the use of “middlemen” who groom or source persons for the main perpetrator as it occurs particularly in institutions of learning.
How does the ICPC come in?
The Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 (the ICPC Act), which established the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) is an act that amongst other things seeks to prescribe punishment for corrupt practices and other related offences.
The Act seeks to rid the system of corrupt acts through the criminalisation and punishment of unethical conduct to act as a deterrent to intending wrongdoers in the public and private space.
One such section of the ICPC Act that criminalises and punishes corrupt conduct by a public officer is Section 19. The said Section provides thus: “Any public officer who uses his office or position to gratify or confer any corrupt or unfair advantage upon himself or any relation or associate of the public officer or any other public officer shall be guilty of an offence and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment for five (5) years without the option of fine”
Corruption of this sort does not exclude private offenders. The ICPC Act also provides for the offence of accepting gratification as follows: “Any person who corruptly; (a) asks for, receives or obtains any property or benefit of any kind for himself or for any other person; or agrees or attempts to receive or obtain any property or benefit of any kind for himself or for any other person, on account of (i) anything already done or omitted to be done, or for any favour or disfavour already shown to any person by himself in the discharge of his official duties or in relation to any matter connected with the functions, affairs, or business of a Government department, or corporate body or other organisation or institution in which he is serving as an official; or (ii) anything to be afterwards done or omitted to be done or favour or disfavour to be afterwards shown to any person, by himself in the discharge of his official duties or in relation to any such matter as aforesaid, is guilty of an offence of official corruption and is liable to imprisonment for seven (7) years.”
The Act defines gratification to include ‘’any service or favour of any description such as penalty or disability incurred or apprehended.”
Sexual benefits or favours fall under this category. When any person in a position of power or authority uses such power irresponsibly by demanding or obtaining sexual gratification, it is an abuse of power or official corruption under the ICPC Act.
Forms of sexual harassment include educator to educator, academic to administrative staff, educator to the learner, learner to learner in certain circumstances, senior male officer towards the junior female officer, and senior female officer towards the junior male officer.
Unfortunately, it has been discovered that many times, sexual harassment victims are reluctant to report for the following reasons: (i) Fear of reprisal by the perpetrator or his loyal aides (ii) Fear of not being believed (iii) Lack of trust in the system to protect and defend victims (iv) Acceptance of the acts as being the norm (v) Fear of stigmatisation.
This has built a culture of silence around the act, which, coupled with the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness on the part of victims, gives perpetrators an upper hand over victims. Naming and shaming perpetrators is a major step in addressing the issue.
The above cannot be fulfilled without the active participation of stakeholders such as civil society organisations, professional organisations, management, and policymakers in different sectors. Prevention is always better than cure and it is hoped that stakeholders will rise to the challenge of joining the Commission to fight this menace before it causes any more damage to our society.
What is ICPC doing?
In fulfilling its mandate, the Commission is committed to
- Educating its officers and the general public on what amounts to abuse of office through sexual harassment, identifying it in an official environment, and addressing it appropriately
- Preventing the commission of the act by advising the public on safeguards that could be put in place in organisations to reduce opportunities for persons to sexually harass other people
- Investigating allegations of sexual harassment and where a prima facie case is established, prosecuting offenders.
In line with the above, the Commission has carried out a series of training and re-training programmes for its officers. Officers who were trained have also participated in training their colleagues to ensure that no officer is left behind.
The Commission has also partnered with some civil society organisations to carry out training, especially for students in tertiary Institutions. The Public Enlightenment and Education Department has taken up the task of including talks on Sexual Harassment in its different engagements.
Furthermore, over fifteen reports on sexual harassment have been received by the Commission, one resulted in a conviction, another to a system study while others are still ongoing investigations.
The conviction was that of Prof. Richard Akindele, a former lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State for corruptly demanding sexual benefits in exchange for marks from Miss Monica Osagie, a female postgraduate student for himself. He was sentenced to a total of 6 years in jail (24 months for asking for sex, another 24 months for soliciting sexual benefits from a student, 12 months for concealing evidence, and another 12 months for falsification of age).
The conviction was made possible by the cooperation of the survivor, the school authorities as well as the Judiciary.
Unarguably, the Commission’s mandate cannot be fulfilled without the active participation of stakeholders such as civil society organisations, professional organisations, management, and policymakers in different sectors. Prevention is always better than cure and it is hoped that stakeholders will rise to the challenge of joining the Commission to fight this menace before it causes any more damage to our society.
As the facts show, ICPC is fighting corruption from every direction, and holistically. As citizens, we must play our parts. Do not remain silent, report sexual harassment to the Commission’s Sexual Harassment Response Team, (SHART), located directly in the Office of the Chairman, ICPC Headquarters, Plot 802 Constitution Avenue, Central Business District, Abuja, or through the following toll-free numbers, email address, and social media handles.