By Carol Natukunda
A number of powerful career men have found themselves in trouble over their sex escapades with their subordinates. Some even have sex in the office, jeopardising their careers and relationships
I received urgent information on VHF (very high frequency) to relay to the officer in charge. When I went to his office, I found the door was open.
I pushed it and entered, only to find him making love with a policewoman on the floor. Shocked, I turned back and closed the door.”
This startling scenario is described by a respondent in Samuel Kyomukama’s 2004 research project on sexual harassment claims in the then Uganda Police Force.
Kyomukama, then a masters degree student at the University of Zimbabwe, discovered an extensive level of sexual harassment in the Police Force. Although that happened many years ago, it is still common in many workplaces.
Currently, there are reports that female athletes are harassed by coaches in their training camps.
MP Proscovia Alengot, the youngest MP in Parliament, revealed in an interview last year that male legislators were hitting on her. She hinted about a male legislator who does not give up.
“This MP has been calling and calling, so these days I just cut him off. When he meets me in Parliament, he demands to know why I do that,” Alengot said.
Pressed further for what this man exactly tells her, Alengot said: “You know men, they want to take you out, comment on your looks, all those things.”
Alengot finds this traumatising, so much that she immediately runs home after a plenary or committee session. “The good thing is that I am still staying at my parents’ house in Namugongo. It is safe. I used to think they behave maturely, but sometimes it is too much!”
An increasing number of powerful career men are behaving badly.
The latest man to fall into the pit is senior Grade One Magistrate Henry Haduli, who has been fired for allegedly having sexual intercourse with a married woman in the Chambers of the Chief Justice at the High Court building in Kampala.
The incident allegedly happened on the evening of August 23, 2007 while Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki was away.
The woman, also a staff member in the Judiciary, later complained to the Judicial Service Commission, arguing that the magistrate made her pregnant but denied responsibility.
In 2012, Emmanuel Sunday, a Kyambogo University macro-economics lecturer, was under fire after he was arrested in a lodge where he had allegedly agreed to meet a female student to have sex in return for good marks. The student tricked Sunday to find her at a lodge and he was nabbed.
Earlier, in 2005, Makerere University dismissed a lecturer over allegations of sexually harassing female students. Dr Julius Enon, a lecturer at the department of educational psychology, was fired after investigations on his conduct.
The university council said the move was part of a crackdown on immoral behaviour.
Last month, Parliament was furious over revelations that some women are scrapped off the Government payroll by officials in the Ministry of Public Service for denying officers sexual favours.
Appearing before the parliamentary committee on local government and public service, Sezi Mbaguta, the public service state minister, regretted the incident.
Internationally, the list is endless. The relationship between former US president Bill Clinton and 22-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky rocked the world in 1998, almost costing Clinton the presidency.
Lewinsky claimed that she had several sexual encounters with the president between 1995 and 1997, though Clinton initially denied the allegations.
There was also a case of the International Monetary Fund boss, Dominic Strauss-Kahn, who reportedly attempted to rape a 32-year-old Manhattan hotel maid. Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav was also sentenced to seven years in prison in March for a rape committed while he was a cabinet minister in the late 1990s.
Increasingly, studies show that men will have sex anytime they want it — it does not matter how. This has led to increased cases of sexual harassment in situations where a woman is not willing to give in to the man’s sexual advances.
In a 2008 survey by the Uganda Youth Crime Watch on sexual harassment in workplaces, 1,437 women were sampled from workplaces in the three districts of Kampala, Entebbe and Mukono. Two thirds of the women were below the age of 35 years and about half of the women were low-ranking employees.
Overall, about three in five women (58%) had experienced some form of sexual harassment by their bosses.
Women who accepted to have sexual encounters with their bosses constituted 26% and these were less likely to be fired or demoted even if they were underperforming.
However, the study further noted that those in high-ranking positions had a 28% less chance of experiencing sexual harassment at the workplace. In contrast, unmarried and new recruits in organisations were 36% more likely to be targeted.
While there are laws in place to curb the vice, Frank Kiwalabye of the Youth Crime Watch, says sexual harassment at the workplace still goes unnoticed, and is often swept under the carpet because the victims fear losing their jobs or being victimised.
Grace Nabakooza, a legal officer with the Federation of Uganda Employers, says in the past year alone, they received about 10 reports on sexual harassment from different big companies.
Although she did not divulge the details, she condemns the vice. Nabakooza is, however, quick to observe that the issue involves several dimensions.
“You have to investigate and find out the circumstances under which it happened. Management has to call both parties and try to trace how it happened, to know whether it is true or just a case of blackmail or maybe two consenting adults,” Nabakooza explains.
MP Proscovia Alengot revealed that there are some MPs who call her asking to take her out
Stories involving educated and career men are as scandalous as they are sad. They reveal just how desperately human beings, even the most “respected” man with probably a family back home, can stoop so low.
So just what is it that makes a man abandon all common sense or discretion? If it is sex they are after, why can’t they stay faithful to their wives who can cater to their needs?
Speaking recently at the launch of a campaign against sexual harassment, Makerere University senior law lecturer Prof Sylvia Tamale attributed the high number of cases of sexual harassment to the patriarchal system, where men are said to dominate everything.
“Men look at women as sex objects. We need to change that mindset,” she said. “Many perpetrators go unpunished due to lack of evidence, while most of the victims are afraid to report for fear of losing their jobs.”
According to psychologists, these men are looking for something else entirely — proof that they are powerful.
“There is the feeling that I have the money and fame, so I will get whatever I want, including sex anytime,” explains Calvin Mumbere, a clinical psychology teaching assistant at Kyambogo University.
Mumbere is, however, quick to explain that some men genetically cannot control their sex drive the same way a woman does.
“The man who will harass a girl is the same man likely to defile his own daughter. It is a mental problem,” he explains
The Uganda National Organisation of Trade Unions (UNOTU) has started a countrywide campaign focusing on higher institutions of learning and companies to sensitise the employees and employers on how to combat the problem.
UNOTU senior official Kim Atwooki urges the Government to put in place a strong policy to curb the vice. The law also demands that an employer who employs more than 25 people should have an in-house sexual harassment regulation to prevent the acts from occurring at the workplace.
Joshua Ondyer, a human resource consultant, says most workplaces have tightened the noose. “If there is sexual contact with your boss or supervisor with your consent, this ceases to be sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is about who wields power in an organisation.
This is a disciplinary issue, for instance like a man touching a woman’s behind, that is not allowed and one could face dismissal,” Ondyer says.
In an earlier article in New Vision, Ondyer observed that in one-man/one-woman organisations, if it is the owner carrying out the offence, it almost invariably ends with the victim losing their jobs if they refuse to comply with the boss’ sexual demands.
“In big firms, it can be a supervisor, the head of section or the overall boss. If it is not addressed, it affects workers’ performance and reduces job satisfaction. This leads to confusion, guilt, anger, loss of respect and dignity, hence need for revenge.
Ondyer says having policies in place boosts performance and job satisfaction since employees know that there is no shortcut to a high position rather than hard work. The would-be culprits also understand that their behaviour will not be tolerated.
The Federation of Uganda Employers offers counselling sessions for employers on how to handle workplace situations like these.
The Government says it is happy with the current labour laws. “The Employment Act we have is as good as can be. There is no country in East Africa with good labour laws like Uganda,” says Dr David Ogaram, the commissioner for labour, employment and industrial relations in the gender labour and social development ministry.
What the law says
Section 7 of the 2006 Employment Act states that an issue will be considered as sexual harassment if the employer directly or indirectly makes a request to the employee for sexual intercourse, sexual contact, uses language — whether written or spoken — of sexual nature, uses visual material of sexual nature or shows physical behaviour of sexual nature.
In cases where it happens, if not on mutual understanding, the management has the powers to take administrative action.
The law also empowers the employees who are sexually harassed to lodge their complaints to the labour officer who can take action against the employer/supervisor.
Although the law is silent on the penalties that should be given to the perpetrator, Section 121(3) of the Penal Code Act provides that anyone who insults the modesty of a woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or intrudes upon the privacy of such a woman or girl, is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for three months or a fine not exceeding six currency points (sh120,000).
“The Act is too weak to address the problem, yet it affects the productivity of individuals at workplaces. Others end up infected with sexually transmitted diseases, but remain silent because of the threats from the perpetrators who are always their bosses and fellow workers,” says Agnes Kim Atwooki, a senior official of Uganda National Organisation of Trade Unions
It also destroys the image of the workplace and ruins the careers of those involved in a sex scandal. Often it leads to dismissal.
Referring to abuse in universities and at internship placements for students, Atwooki adds that many of the victims bottle up their experiences and continue to suffer from humiliation due to lack of a reporting mechanism and policy.