Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Don't look at me like that!

No, the looks won't kill you. But it can make your life a living hell.

One of the perks of this job is that I get roped in to many activities or initiatives and one of them is to tackle the problem of sexual harassment. Am I relevant to this initiative? Of course I am. I am a father (of 3 teenagers). I am a husband. And most of all, I am a person in authority (I have power, you see?). I have staff who work under me. And hundreds (even thousands) of students (girls and boys) who's future depend on the grades I give them.

Yes, it happens on campus . And yes, it also happens to our staff (and students, I presume) when they are outside the campus attending some function, even at classy hotels. You just don't get to read a lot about it in the papers. The reasons are many. Some heads of department don't want to deal with it and choose the well-trodden path - Denial. Ignore it and it will go away. Often the victims (some prefer to call them "survivors") themselves don't want the publicity that comes with pursuing the aggressor. You will be surprised at the reasons. Some fear that their husbands will be angry (at their wives, not the perpetrator). But I have come across a case in which the victim was actually more concerned that the perpetrator will not lose his job if she pursued the matter. Compassionate and incredible! And do you know that the Code of Practice against sexual harassement in the government service actually has a "opt out" clause, obstensibly to respect the right of the victim not to pursue the matter, i.e. not to press charges?

So, who are the perpetrators? Professors, security guards, senior colleagues and even students (reported to have harassed the staff). Most people seem to think that only the young and pretty ones are targetted but that is a myth. Sexy dressing invites unwanted attention. Not true. Even decently dressed ladies are not spared. And yes, men are not immune to sexual harassment too. OK, if any of you macho guys out there are thinking "which men doesn't want to be sexually harassed?" you really need to realign your perspective of life.

So, what's sexual harassment? Basically, any unwanted attention from either of the sexes. (Read the Code of Practice for the complete list but I hate it because it is full of legal prose). If it makes you uncomfortable, then tell the guy or gal to "STOP". You gotta to learn to say "NO". My personal experience is that the victim (especially young innocent students who are not streetwise) may not even recognise the "signs" that they are being harassed. I know, most are afraid to say no for fear of victimisation but that is what aggressors thrives on. He or she knows he/she can get away with it. So, we have stop them in their tracks.

Yah, I know. People are saying, "All these rules and code, everything also cannot do. Where got fun anymore?". So, don't stop having fun. Tease, flirt, be romantic. But if the other party tells you to "stop" then "stop". If it is true love, it's gotta be 2-way.

So, what are we doing about it? The Task Force for sexual harassment is hard at work, spearheaded by KANITA. If you have ideas, contact them directly.

At Kampus Sejahtera, we are also bouncing some ideas of how to make it safe especially for students who are well-known for their nocturnal habits. I remember when I was a student and we had to work late into the night at the HBP Studio. Hey, with my small size and skinny built I could still perform secret service duties, escorting the ladies back to the hostel past midnight. We look out for each other. Use your primitive instinct - the herd mentality. Don't walk alone late at night. Organise yourselves. I have conscripted our lady administrator at the Corporate Office here to initiate some action, so please come forward to help. Put safety at the top of your priorities. Avoid dark lonely shortcuts. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason to go see your lecturer in the wee hours of the morning or late night - no matter what excuse he or she gives. If you have to, bring a FEW friends.

Where should you go to report? We are hoping to identify a central body or location to make it easy for victims to seek help but in the meantime, you can come to us at Kampus Sejahtera. If you would rather talk to a lady, we will help you with that. I am told that the Women Centre for Change is doing excellent work - you can contact them too. USM also has a legal unit with friendly staff who could help. Talk to a friend.

How big is the problem, you say? I don't really care. We aim for zero tolerance.

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