What you need to know about the ‘Sexual Harassment Bill, 2020’

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Sexual abuse for many Nigerians has become an unsolicited reality to live with. Specifically in tertiary institutions, students have remained victims of different forms of harassment. The vulnerability, fear and ignorance have all played out in nurturing harassment on campuses.

As some of these acts are explicitly exposed, bills have also been proposed and introduced to address these criminal acts. One of them is the Sexual Harassment Bill, 2020.

The Nigerian Senate passed this bill on July 7, 2020 as an effort to address the menace of sexual harassment towards students in tertiary institutions.

The bill which would be sent to the House of Representatives and then to the president for assent prescribes up to 14 years imprisonment term for offenders.

Objectives of the Bill
The main objective of this Bill is to criminalise acts of or related to sexual misconduct towards students. The Bill however would not only convict offenders but also punish principal officers who ignore sexual assault cases in tertiary institutions.

On the long run, the Bill aims to provide a conducive and safe learning environment for students as well as foster professional and academic relationships among members of educational institutions.

What does sexual harassment mean?
The aim of the Bill is to prohibit acts of sexual harassment but what really does it mean by sexual harassment and where do we draw the line?

Some of the activities the Bill referred to as sexual harassment include; having or asking for sexual intercourse from students in exchange for higher grades or whatsoever, making physical and online sexual advances, linking students with staffs to be sexually harassed, and making sex related jokes or compliments.

Provisions of the Bill
The Bill has proposed both fines and jail terms for offenders.

Particularly, lecturers found guilty of sexual intercourse with students or prospective students would face up to 14 years imprisonment. Lecturers who make online or physical advances such as sexual body languages, wink, whistle or send pornographic contents will spend not less than 2 years imprisonment.

More so, principal officers who refuse to investigate sexual misconduct cases or victimise students who reported would also face legal charges.

Lastly, students who falsely accuse lecturers of sexual assault may be suspended.

Criticisms of the bill

A major criticism of the anti-sexual harassment Bill is that Tertiary institutions are independent and should be allowed to manage their affairs without external bodies.

Another criticism which is even more disturbing is that the Bill does not include primary, secondary and special needs schools. The argument is that since these other institutions are not immune from sexual misconduct; they should not be left out from Bill.

What this Bill means to Nigerian students
The Sexual Harassment Bill is a major step to restore sanity on campuses. The fear however is that if the Bill is passed, enforcing it may become difficult just like other laws in Nigeria.

Nevertheless, if the Bill is passed, it will at least lessen the fear of student’s reporting sexual harassment and also caution lecturers who have intentions of harassing students.

 

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