Teach don’t touch

Dilys Artictle Dilys Sillah is the writer of the article

Tue, 15 Oct 2019 Source: Dilys Sillah

Here we are again with another opportunity to hold people to account or play the blame game, stand up for what is right or make excuses for the inexcusable. As the good book says and I paraphrase, ‘life and death I put before you, which one will you choose? Choose life…’ So I ask you: What will you choose?

You see, we live in a society that is largely built on a wish list of ideals with a healthy dose of hypocrisy thrown in the mix. We have churches on nearly every street corner, and yet we are plagued with varying levels of immorality, dishonesty and thievery. Curiously, we can never seem to find anybody actually committing these immoral acts, other than the victims of course, because we’ve got to blame someone!

I mean, how dare a student who has been sent to school or university to get an education, have the audacity to allow their teacher or professor to make sexual advances at them? As a student it’s their responsibility to have to curb the sexual advances of the person who is paid to ensure they come out of the education system with what they went in there for - is it not?

BBC Africa aired the damning #SexForGrades program of perverted professors who clearly had other subjects that weren’t in the curriculum they wanted their students to graduate from.

This canker of sexual inappropriateness and sexual crimes, where exactly does it end? We have a frightening level of tolerance for those who choose to push and cross sexual boundaries, provided they are heterosexual and their victims are women and girls. Every excuse under the sun is thrown in the ring to abdicate the pastor, the professor, the teacher, the father, the boss - to find something, anything that could shift the blame from the person getting their cheap thrills onto the woman or girl being victimised. Even being caught on camera wasn’t enough, the lame entrapment excuse was thrown in there to again shift the focus, but I don’t have long enough to laugh at that train of thought or lack of to elaborate on that defence.

‘Oh these Legon girls they are spoilt o. So so money they want’. ‘Have you seen how they dress? ‘Ah! ‘But they are not small girls’. These are some of the unenlightened statements we make when a no brainer of a scenario is presented before us.

It’s appalling to see people grappling to find something, anything to explain away the licentious, debauched and wicked behaviour of these men.

Maybe it’s the indiscipline we are used to and the sense of entitlement that exists in places where poverty and power are in constant conflict. There’s a reason why there is such a thing as ethics and codes of conduct. In any advanced society, there are certain relationships that are forbidden, and for good reason - and the teacher/student relationship is one of them. I don’t need to mention in intricate detail what BBC Africa found, but suffice to say, a professor asking his student for a kiss and consistently prepositioning her is a clear line that has been crossed.

Everyone reading this came from a woman and therefore it’s surprising to some degree, the lack of concern for what is happening to our daughters, sisters, aunts and future mothers. While many of these men sit and laugh making idle off the cuff comments about sexual harassment, and how lucky these men were to have free access to grope and grade students, they may wish to spare a thought for the female members of their own families. I can assure you that a good 95% of those women have been subjected to unwanted sexual contact at some point in their lives, they just haven’t told you because they hear the lack of empathy, respect or concern when listening to your take on such matters.

We don’t seem to take anything to do with sexual inappropriateness seriously. We had girls impregnated by their teachers in the Central Region a few years back and I don’t recall hearing of any prosecutions being brought. These were young, teenage girls being sexually abused and exploited by those in whose care they had been entrusted. Now I can almost hear you saying ‘But the girls in Legon aren’t kids!’ Well here’s a revelation for you: If we fail to protect the most vulnerable, i.e. children, of course you’re not going to see the need to protect those whom you deem to be ‘mature’.

Any situation where one is in a position of power or authority and responsible for people in any capacity, should not ever be allowed to use that power to subjugate anyone sexually or otherwise. Doctors and their patients are forbidden to have relationships and if there is a slight chance of one, a doctor who understands the standard they should be working to, should refer that patient to be placed another doctor’s care. These boundaries are put there to protect both parties; discretion is not what is relied on to keep those standards by the parties involved.

The problem with relying on discretion, common sense and self-restraint is simple: Common sense is not common. Our society is so forgiving of such behaviour that we are almost oblivious to the repercussions and damage that sexual harassment has on victims. Because of this, perpetrators have such a sense of entitlement to demand or force sex as it’s seen as their right and a perk of the job.

It is very encouraging to see the University of Ghana has issued a very strong statement enforcing their policies against this sort of thing, but let’s be honest –is this the first they are hearing of such practices? Everybody knows what goes on from school to university level and it doesn’t stop there. We poor women then have to look for work and it starts all over again - the sexual harassment doesn’t stop, it gets worse. So we have to navigate the pawing lecherous teachers and professors for another battle of trying to keep our dignity whilst trying to earn an honest wage. When and where does it ever end?

Truth is, this has been going on from time immemorial but the problem won’t go away because we keep making excuses. ‘Have you seen how they dress’, ‘We are being tempted’, ‘They are the ones chasing us’. Really? So if you lack such levels of self-control, are you not a loose cannon and a dangerous individual if you cannot be trusted around young people, to the extent that you exert your power by failing students who don’t comply? What business do you have being in the teaching profession? How can we be so complicit? We should be demanding to see the results of every female student failed by these men. Dreams have been shattered and the course of many futures placed in jeopardy or destroyed.

Until we are consistent with our definition of morality, we shall continue to regress. We are outraged by anything to do with gay rights but we have this very present evil of non-consenting individuals being forced, exploited and coerced into situations they have little control over, but yet we’re more worried about what two men do in the privacy of their own homes. We will quote scripture from here to the Garden of Eden but are okay with this level of sexual exploitation of our children and young people, so long as it’s done to females by men in power.

The silence is deafening and we hear the crickets because half the people responsible for putting this right know their own hands have been in the cookie jar.

We stay silent and resist change in how we think and reason, lest children are made aware that their bodies are their own and nobody has the right to touch them, the student isn’t empowered because it will mean the teacher will have to teach and not be able to touch. The pastor isn’t teaching truth because being a critical independent thinker means you won’t believe he doesn’t have to sleep with you before God blesses your womb.

If we want to take the moral high ground on homosexuality, sexual harassment and everything in between, we need to make sure our hands are clean on everything to do with sex. We the people will no longer allow you to pick and choose what our society needs protection from because so far it’s been an epic fail.

We need to stop lending our silence to the evil we want to protect; it’s time for the other side to start shouting.

Columnist: Dilys Sillah