Choosing to challenge sexual predation

FOLLOWING the very sad outcomes of the #EndSARS protests and other waves of bad news that have almost become the new normal all over the world, I decided to limit my social media activity and control my news consumption. I was partly influenced by Rolf Dobelli’s 2013 article, News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier. While pointing out that going without news had helped him to reduce anxiety and make room for deeper thinking, Mr Dobelli did not altogether give up on journalism. “Society needs journalism – but in a different way,” he says. “Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news.” That gave me some sort of paradigm shift. And perhaps, it explains why I was drawn to an investigative report in an email newsletter that I received on February 23, 2021. I was shocked to learn about a posthumous sex scandal that involves the head of an organisation with global influence, especially in religious and academic circles.

The report says that, “witnesses described encounters including sexting, unwanted touching, spiritual abuse, and rape.” Expectedly, the development has caused pain to many families and threatens to wipe out the legacy of the deceased. In a similar development, the Foundation for Investigative Journalism recently reported the story of a medical student at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, who was raped twice on her 21st birthday by a resident doctor at the hospital. While I am not in a position to comment on the facts of these incidents, I think the overall situation raises practical issues that warrant contemplation. A 2019 study by NOI Polls found that 3 out 10 respondents know someone who has been raped in the past and 72 percent of the victims are minors (1-15 years) while 24 percent are young adults aged 16-25 years.

Earlier in 2017, the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics had reported 2,279 cases of rape and indecent assault. But the actual figures could be much higher since many cases are not reported for fear of further victimization and lack of faith in the criminal justice system. All of this points to the need for urgent and decisive action to not only bring perpetrators to book but also challenge the entire system that supports the prevalence of this menace. There is no simple solution to the problem of sexual predation. And candidly, even the most respectable persons can get entangled in either side of the problem, given the right circumstances.  This reflects the insight of first-century preacher, Saul of Tarsus, in a letter to his followers: “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.”  Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase is even more incisive: “Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else.”

A lot of advocacy on sexual predation and gender-based violence has been geared towards punitive measures. While it is indeed important to punish offenders and seek justice for victims, we must not neglect the fact that we can begin to make immediate gains by implementing preventive and protective measures. In many cases, acts of sexual predation and abuse don’t just happen. They are the culmination of personality problems, wrong values, media violence, sexual innuendos, grooming and various kinds of inappropriate behaviour that have been overlooked or explained away. Organisations must start paying attention to minor misconducts and questionable behaviours that might be symptoms of deeper problems.

If we commit to addressing these underlying issues through a deliberate process that enforces proper behaviour and reinforces the right values, we will see significant gains in our fight against sexual predation and abuse. One practical way to start moving in the right direction is to create and conscientiously implement a safeguarding policy in every organization, especially schools, religious organizations, hospitals and other institutions that care for children and youths. A safeguarding policy expresses the organisation’s commitment to protect vulnerable individuals from abuse, harassment, neglect, violence or any form of harm. It also assigns responsibilities and outlines procedures for dealing with issues that may arise. Everyone must take responsibility for implementing preventive and protective measures against all forms of abuse, especially sexual predation and gender based violence.

To this end, all members of staff should be trained to identify violations and take appropriate action. A simple framework for achieving this is to align with the 5R’s of safeguarding as recommended by experts: 1. Recognize: It is important to ensure that everyone is aware of the organization’s high standards and zero tolerance for sexual misconduct. All members of staff must also be trained to recognize behaviours that may indicate violation. 2. Respond: Regardless of your role or position in the organization, do not ignore any concern or report of any untoward behaviour. Listen attentively, take note of the details and respond appropriately. Maintain a calm disposition and reassure the complainant that they have taken the right step by choosing to speak up. Let them see your unreserved readiness to help. However, do not make promises that are not within your power to keep. 3. Report: The details gathered from complainants should be reported to a Designated Officer who has been assigned the responsibility to take further action. Designated officers must have been trained for this purpose. Their role and identity should be clearly communicated to everyone within the organisation.In a situation where reporting to a particular Designated Officer may not be appropriate for any reason, hold back and report to another Designated Officer, or a member of senior management.

  1. Record: Designated Officer should record specific details of the allegation, quoting the complainant as accurately as possible. Factual observations about the physical and emotional state of the person making the report may also be recorded, if appropriate.
  2. Refer: This is a responsibility of the Designated Officer who should launch a thorough investigation into allegations, complaints and suspicions of sexual and physical violence. This may involve questioning the persons involved and taking further action as appropriate.

By taking the aforementioned responsibilities seriously, organizations can create a company culture that prevents misconduct and protects those who uphold the organization’s values. Without this, abusers may intimidate victims into shame, submission and silence.

As individuals and organizations, we must take responsibility for our actions and inactions. What we don’t challenge will not change. We have the responsibility to stand against sexual misconduct and abuse, thereby playing our part towards creating a more inclusive world.

Amiola is a teacher, writer and spiritual entrepreneur. You can connect with him on Twitter: @PhilipAmiola and learn more about his work at www.philipamiola.org.

  • Amiola is a teacher, writer and spiritual entrepreneur

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