Another NGO deals with sexual harassment claim

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) on Tuesday released a statement about a case of sexual harassment brought against a former staff member — in an attempt “to deal openly with reports of sexual harassment and so begin to make our spaces more supportive and safer”.

After a number of reports of sexual harassment allegations in the non-governmental organisation sector, the sector has been criticised for a lack of transparency in dealing with such claims.

READ MORE: #WeBelieveThem: Feminist caucus calls for end to ‘culture of silence’ in NGO sector

The civil society organisation based at the School of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand said an allegation of sexual harassment was made to the Wits Gender Equity Office (GEO) at the end of August by a woman in the “Wits community” against someone who was then a CALS staff member.

However CALS did not name the alleged harasser — who resigned before a disciplinary process had been finalised — saying it was taking a complainant-centred approach. “None of us can be for sure how talking about him and talking about his identity might make things more difficult for the complainant herself,” said CALS acting director Lisa Chamberlain.

In its statement, CALS said the GEO concluded a preliminary investigation into the allegations after which they referred the matter to a formal disciplinary process for hearing. However, before the hearing commenced, the accused staff member resigned from his position at CALS. The GEO then made the decision to stop the disciplinary process as it could not proceed because of his resignation.

CALS said it had released the statement because it wanted to “to deal openly with reports of sexual harassment and so begin to make our spaces more supportive and safer”.

READ MORE: LRC allows ‘harasser’ to resign

Chamberlain said when “complaints happen at home” it brought up the need to “not take anything for granted”.

She said the message CALS wanted to send out was that, “firstly, when complains like these are made, they had to be taken seriously. Secondly that we must acknowledge the reality and work from that place and that means centring complainants in our institutional response; and thirdly that none of us are immune and we can all learn from each other,” she said.

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Rumana Akoob
Rumana Akoob is a former investigative journalist who is now an activist and communications specialist

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