Sexual harassment: There will be payback time

Bill Cosby escaped the slammer by a whisker after a legion of women accused him of ancient crimes of sexual molestation. Then came a certain Harvey Weinstein, a celebrity film producer. Now it is old Kevin Spacey, one of my favourite actors.

Remember his portrayal of Clarence Darrow in “Mercy for Leopold and Loeb”? Pure class.  There seems to be some affinity between film producers, actors and sexual offences. I could cite several local examples, but I choose not to. I simply seek to warn that in time, victims do come out to seek closure and such closure may entail public exposure.

For the likes of Kevin Spacey, hitherto secure in their untainted legacies, the revelations must have come as a rude awakening. It is quite easy to do stuff that hurts others, and then to move on under the assumption that time will bury it all six feet under in one ancient pile. It is equally easy, when you are a man, to think that a sexual indiscretion can be fixed with an apology and failing an apology, a denial.

The examples above suggests the contrary. When your victim is wiser, they will demand accountability. That may be 31 years from today. I have sat with women, many orphaned in their youth, consulting on whether they could still get judicial redress for crimes committed when they could not defend themselves and when there was no one to defend them. These are stories of people abused by those they looked up to for protection and for survival. It is possible.

We live in a society not unaccustomed to sexual indiscretions. Groping, suggestive remarks, and sexual harassment in all its manifestations are hardly ever punished. I walked behind a high profile individual once, an ‘F’ scale someone, and I was surprised to see the lady in front of us turn around, “smilingly protesting”. I know that’s oxymoronic, but that’s what happened. When later I asked the lady what the protest was all about she told me the man had touched her rear. By the way, the lady was a security officer and was escorting us to an office for a meeting. She was self-evidently from the village of my forbearers, which may have provided the temptation for the indiscretion. Clearly, the power relationship was so big as to subdue the lady’s capacity to forcefully protest.

She could not have fancied herself taking the man head-on even if she wanted. So she just absorbed her losses and moved on. It must feel really painful to be and to feel so vulnerable. In some cases you protest, you lose your job. You end up doubly victimised; molested and unemployed. Take the example of the lady who was allegedly required to perform oral sex on her Indian employer and suffered a facial shower of everything Indian. As dramatically as the story flared, it fizzled out. Whatever happened to her. Your guess is as good as mine.

Victims hardly ever take it beyond a complaint. Even when they do, they generally accept an apology and limp on. Then, the perpetrator moves on to find another victim. By the time someone cares to do anything about it, every second employee has been abused. There are no-go offices in many workplaces to which women can’t go without risk of at least a sexual advance. I do not say that men are never groped. There is a chance I have been. When I sue the lady who may have done it, it will be fireworks.

The absence of a comprehensive sexual harassment policy in the workplace may be a ticking time bomb for many corporate entities. As society becomes more litigious corporate entities may find themselves liable for the indiscretions of their employees.

Every corporate office must a have a clear sexual harassment policy into which every new employee should be thoroughly schooled. But then, maybe I am just talking nonsense. It is not uncommon for corporate entities to pawn their front desk staff for the amusement of male customers. They specifically recruit women with glamorous looks mainly, for their front desks. That is of course a form of discrimination but not the kind proscribed by the Constitution. Banks are guilty of this; law firms too. The supreme culprit operates somewhere around Riverwalk mall.

In Botswana the rules as regards criminal liability for sexual offences require evidence of recent report. If you stay too long without reporting a sexual offence your story will less likely be believed. A sexual offence victim is expected to treat the incident as an urgent matter. Of course a court would consider all the circumstances of the case.

One may well be under a threat-to-kill, a threat to be dismissed or some other form of incapacitation. But my experience suggests that it is very difficult to secure a conviction on a sexual offence that wasn’t reported with urgency. It may be equally difficult to obtain damages in a civil suit after years of silence.

Most victims never sue their abusers or the corporate entities that created an enabling climate for the abuse to take place. But it is better to deal with the violation now than after 31 years. I advise that you see your lawyer about your situation, however old it may be.

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