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‘Dressing has nothing to do with harassment’

“Maybe if you weren’t dressed in a provocative way, he wouldn’t have touched you the way he did. That sentence shocked me and since then…

“Maybe if you weren’t dressed in a provocative way, he wouldn’t have touched you the way he did. That sentence shocked me and since then I have secretly resented my mother for it,” said Zainab.
Zainab Shehu was narrating to Home Front how her mother blamed her when she told her a stranger in a cab she boarded back home tried to harass her by feeling her legs.
 “I came home and tried to tell my mom what happened, and she made it my fault because I was wearing a tight-fitting gown without a proper hijab to go with it,” she said.
 “It was a scary experience for me because I was the only woman in the cab and it was pretty late on that day but the fear I felt that night turned to anger when my mom said it was my fault,” she added.
 While sexual harassment has been a pervasive problem for women throughout history, in most countries it is illegal in employment places, the academia or anywhere else even though it still happens.
 Only a few weeks ago, an audio clip of a university lecturer sexually harassing one of his students went viral on the internet.
 Although the exposure led to his resignation, the said Head of English Department, University of Ilorin was said to have engaged in the sexual and corrupt acts in collaboration with his colleagues in the department.
 Tina Aliu, a student of Biology, University of Abuja, told our reporter that harassment was not just in school but also everywhere in the society although their occurrence in schools and workplaces was more rampant.
 She said before securing admission, she had worked as a sales person at a pharmacy and that what prompted her to leave was when her boss began to make unsolicited comments about her body parts and also on occasions ‘accidentally’ brushing sexual parts of his body against hers.
 “I warned him am not like that but he did not appreciate it; he kept on persisting, to the point that he would make sneak sexual attacks at me, that was when I knew I had to leave, after all the pay was not that much,” she said.
 Tina also said she never thought she dressed indecently to warrant such treatment from her boss, but believed he needed help because he was not only harassing her but also other female customers who visited the pharmacy.
Gabriel Jatau said he suffered his own harassment from a lecturer during his last year in the university when he missed a test and approached the lecturer for a make-up test.
 “The lecturer is well known for these kinds of things with ladies, but since am not a lady I thought I could settle him with money and get away with it.
“But the lecturer demanded that I present my then girlfriend to him. I swore to him that I didn’t have a girlfriend, but he knew and even described her to me. He then insisted I bring her to him warning me that she must accept his demand.
 “I told my girlfriend about the issue and begged her to help me out so I don’t have an extra year. The lady broke up with me and I ended up spending two more years in the university before the course was finally taken away from the lecturer,” Jatau said.
 Jatau who is now a youth corps member, told Home Front that he (the lecturer) still found a way to frustrate the same girl he was dating until she reported him to the then HOD of their department, and even at that other lecturers took over from him, and ensured she graduated with very poor grades.
 “I still blame myself for that because if I hadn’t approached him, she wouldn’t have had to be singled out that way,” he said.
 “She is a very decent girl and dresses appropriately,” he added.
 Dr Mary Ndifon, a lecturer of Human Psychology, Federal College of Education, Zuba, said blaming the way women dress for the harassment they suffered from men was not fair because some of the men also harassed women who were properly dressed, including those who wore even hijab.
 “What are we talking about here; these men are troubled, because how do you explain those that harass women on hijab or even children who have not developed sexual organs. The men are troubled and need serious help, and I believe if we stop blaming these women, it’s going to be a start in helping to curb it,” she said.
 Although she cautioned women on improper dressing, stating that they would be addressed the way they dressed, she also warned against having to make it their fault when harassment happened.
 “There’s never a justification to sexually harass a woman. There is nothing that makes the derogatory way you treat her more understandable even if you don’t like the way she’s dressed because no matter what a woman wears, it’s never an invitation for sexual harassment. She’s not an object for the gratification of men,” she said.
A notion shared by Chinyere Eyoh, the Executive Director of SOAR initiative, an organisation focused on preventing child sexual abuse and providing support for those who have been sexually abused.
 According to her, blaming the harassed person is the height of injustice; a lesson most security agencies and care providers must learn, adding that the blame factor is what has allowed the trend of rape to persist because most victims go underground and refuse to report the incident for fear of being blamed and stigmatised.
“Imagine when a child is raped, what on earth attracts an adult male to that child? Would you say it’s her dressing, or a school uniform? If it’s not that it’s the man’s deprived desire. They are simply sick and need help,” she said.

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