In the last couple of months, I have come across a few news reports and articles concerning sexual impropriety in the workplace in Ghana. In these stories, some accomplished Ghanaian women have accused their former bosses of improperly soliciting sexual relations and/or acts from them before offering the job positions these women were interested in. While some of the sexual acts may have been “consensual”, others may have been non-consensual or constituted rape cases.
Often, these stories are reported by the women years after the acts occurred. When they are reported, these women are revictimized, demonized and subjected to name calling. Some members of the public accuse the victims, mostly women of being opportunistic, losers, attention seekers, dumped disgruntled ex-sexual partners etc.
Others blame the accusers for “wilfully” participating or having “seduced” the men for their personal and material gains and only reporting because the relationship broke and/or the ex-partners dumped them in favour of other partners for marriage.
Some also question the accusers’ motives for coming out while insinuating an existence of a financial or vindictive motive or an agenda to destroy the personal or family lives of these former sexual partners who may be “happily” married.
But why do victims come out? Is it always to seek revenge, financial gains or attention? Or is it the victims’ right to seek justice? Does it even matter when they lodge their complaints? Does justice have an expiry date? What if she did not provide informed consent, was coerced or raped?
By the way, how do we determine if any wrongdoing occurred in such relationships? Does it matter when it involves two “consenting adults”? If yes, how? Does a wider age or status gap matter?
Should power differences between the two parties be weighted? Does it matter who initiated the sexual acts or relationship? Should the venue of the relationship or acts also be taken into account? What if consent was ambiguous and/or variable?
What is Really Wrong with Such Relationships? What are the Real Impacts?
Such relationships constitute a professional misconduct regardless of who initiated them. Wrong in so many ways and should never be condoned or tolerated in any workplace. Sexual relations particularly those involving coercion or unequal partners breed a toxic and ineffective work spaces for the participating individuals, other staff, clients and communities served.
Such relationships also border on professional boundaries and affect the integrity and effectiveness of the persons involved. How do we know if the subordinate sexual partner was the most qualified job applicant hired? Was there favouritism? Does that constitute corruption?
How can the the participating boss ensure an accountable job performance from the subordinate sexual partner? How do such relationships impact on the parties’ professional interactions and relationships? What about other staff members?
Are the clients and customers served well? Does service quality suffer? How does that affect the individuals’ personal and family lives? What if there are children involved?
In the case of non-consensual sexual activity or act, the victim may experience mental health issues, trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. This may also affect their future relationships with their own spouses and children.
Who is to Blame?
I put the bulk of the blame squarely on the person in authority regardless of who initiated the sexual acts or relationships? A person in power has more influence and should have an upper hand in preventing or halting such relationships. The one in authority also exerts influence that may have been abused for sexual favours through domination, coercion or bullying or harassment. This can, therefore, throw the issue of consent into question or doubt.
In my opinion, a person in a position of power who initiates, permits or condones such acts lacks integrity, discipline or good judgment to hold any position of power. It is an issue of character and inability to maintain a personal boundary and speaks to a person’s poor judgment and character.
Ghanaian employers and government authorities ought to do something to protect young job seekers and professionals who fall victims to such heinous acts. Girls in particular must have special measures to protect them. Labour Laws and policies have to be strengthened to prevent and deter such acts. Employers, government agencies, police and victims’ support services have to have sensitivity and sexual harassment/violence training. Violators, especially those in authority ought to be shamed, sanctioned and punished severely through suspensions, termination, offender registration, community service, publicization and even jail term as necessary.
There should be independent processes or mechanisms for reporting and to ensure due process. Confidential counseling services, victims peer support and legal advice should be available for victims who experience such violations to facilitate independent and timely access to appropriate support and remedies. Collaboration with NGOs and civil society groups is recommended.
Say no sexual violence, harassment and favours in the workplace!
Signed: Akosua G