Are international organizations such as FIFA keeping track of complaints? (Photo: FIFA)

Global Eye is an independent column on human rights issues.

Kathryn Mayorga has now decided to break her silence. In a backroom deal, in which she received US$375,000, the schoolteacher and former model was gagged from speaking out about her alleged rape by Portuguese Juventus footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, which was reported to the Los Angeles (LA) police department shortly after the incident on 13 June 2009. It begs the question as to how a criminal investigation into such a serious matter managed to be quashed, when Ronaldo offered varying stated versions of what happened.

Football Leaks  (the online whistle-blowing platform) shared documents with the  German magazine Der Spiegel revealing some of the tactics allegedly used by Ronaldo’s lawyers to minimize the reported  offence. The term “alleged sexual harassment” rather than “rape” was used.  A private investigator was hired to dig into her past but came up with little or nothing. Ronaldo’s Instagram referred to “fake news” and opportunism: “I firmly deny the accusations being issued against me,” he tweeted. “Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in.”

The Las Vegas US district attorney must decide whether to initiate criminal proceedings against the footballer, plus determine the status of the out-of-court agreement. The LA police department reportedly disposed of any critical evidence. If so, this could seriously hinder any proper criminal investigation and the due process rights of both parties.

The Kavanaugh case

Judge Brett Kavanaugh has finally been confirmed as a new US Supreme Court justice in the contentious and almost too painful to watch Senate confirmation hearing. Kavanagh denied claims by Prof. Christine Blasey Ford of sexual assault at a party when they were both attending a posh Maryland school together 36 years ago.

Denial has up to now been a safe space for most of the patriarchy. The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee in a 414-page report concluded on 4 November, just before the mid-term elections, that “there was no credible evidence to support the allegations”. It even said: “The witnesses that Dr. Ford identified as individuals who could corroborate her allegations failed to do so, and in fact, contradicted her.”

And of another complaint, the Senate Committee went further: “The evidence appears to support the position that Julie Swetnick and [her attorney, Michael] Avenatti criminally conspired to make materially false statements to the Committee and obstruct the Committee’s investigation.” Their names have been forwarded to the Department of Justice and FBI for further investigation, according to the report.

Justice Kavanaugh may feel vindicated. But at what cost? His emotional self-justification raised questions, particularly in contrast to Ford’s self-control, about his capacity to serve impartially on the highest court of the land (remember Edmund Muskie’s “crying speech” , the result of a Republican dirty tricks campaign, that helped derail his presidential hopes). Real men don’t cry in American politics.

The Safeguarding Summit – Action on the horizon

All eyes were on London on 18 October at the UK Safeguarding Summit on sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in the aid sector. It was hosted by Minister Penny Maudant, Chief of the UK Government Department for International Development (DFID).

She has declared her determination to move the aid sector forward in the aftermath of the Oxfam scandal, catalysed by sexual abuse on the part of aid workers in Haiti post 2010 earthquake, and resulted in the resignation of this major aid agency’s chief executive.

The Conference took place opposite the Houses of Parliament where a debate raged following the publication of Dame Laura Cox’s report on harassment at the highest echelons of UK government. I sat in the strangers gallery and listened to a historical and sobering debate reminding us that the most venerable of UK institutions are also responsible for providing a workplace free from bullying and harassment. A House of Commons statement on the report can be found online.

An “herstorical” intervention

Back at the safeguarding conference the choreographed event was high-jacked in an extraordinary piece of “herstory” by feminist and activist Alexia Pepper De Caires. She approached the minister at the podium (see video link) – in an impeccably timed intervention under the nose of security, interrupted the Minister at the end of her sentence with decorum stating that the exclusion of activists from addressing the DFID conference was an unacceptable attempt to control women who are speaking out in the aid sector.

Those of us in the audience held our breath in anticipation. Officials scurried around the stage in crisis mode. To her credit, Maudant listened carefully to the démarche, apologized and gracefully surrendered her speaking slot at the end of the conference to the activist.

Suffragette Emeline Pankhurst would have been proud of “how far women have come”, both on the anniversary of her own arrest for requesting a voice for women and the right to vote at Westminster in this same week 110 years ago.

When asked what inspired her rare act of courage, Pepper De Caires stated that she had woken up in the morning feeling she needed to be heard. Her underlying anger was rooted in DFID’s invitation to fund Save the Children UK, her former employer, before an investigation by the UK Charity Commission had concluded regarding Save’s handling of workplace sexual harassment allegations. She said she simply acted on the spur of the moment.

Maudant spoke privately to Pepper De Caires, prior to taking the stage at the end of the conference. The Minister gave assurances of her intention to probe the UN and aid sector’s sexual abuse failures in service to survivors.

The DFID committed £20 ($35) million in research funding to improve understanding of the risks faced by people affected by conflict, including those subjected to sexual exploitation. Eleven publications from the summit are online, including nine commitments on sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and sexual harassment, though the new “major” commitments highlighted by the U.N.’s ReliefWeb do not explicitly mention sexual issues (no surprise? See below). Notwithstanding, #MeToo watchers are curious about what will actually result from the Global Safeguarding Summit on sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in the aid sector.

WFP grinding through the mud amid claims that it never comments on harassment. It does. (See editor’s note) – (UN Photo)

WPF and UNDP

One would hope all this would bode well for those reporting harassment. Insight into ongoing cases does not suggest so. A World Food Programme (WFP) staffer acting as the top UN official in Nigeria has been under investigation by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since early 2018 for harassment. The complainant, a senior female humanitarian official, has been denied protection by UNDP even though her position has reportedly become untenable due to the long drawn-out 9-month investigation. The inability to initiate prudent and timely action in harassment cases, or at least protect complainants until the conclusion of an investigation after a decade of UN whistle-blower protection failure, is simply unacceptable in the midst of #MeToo. According to WFP Executive Director David Beasley: “It is not our policy to comment on internal staff matters”*.

Sec-Gen’s Circle of Leadership

Both WFP and UNDP bosses are signatories to the “Secretary-General’s Circle of Leadership on the Prevention and Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in United Nations Operations”, dated 27 September 2018. “In United Nations Operations” might sound like weasel-words to avoid protecting people in the U.N.’s day-to-day business but paragraph 2 states clearly: “We recognize the unique responsibility of the United Nations to set the standard for preventing, responding to, and eradicating sexual exploitation and abuse within the United Nations system, address its impact effectively and humanely, and safeguard and empower victims”. Paragraph 3 says: “We recognize the shared responsibility of the United Nations and its Member States to protect victims and whistle-blowers and take appropriate action against perpetrators”.

Paula Donovan of Code Blue Campaign testified to the UK select committee on international development this summer that “…the UN operates in a vacuum of state authority with no clear jurisdiction willing and able to prosecute sexual crimes.”

The U.N. leaders have now made serious commitments. Let’s see if they will live up to their words.

On 6 November the UN revealed it has received 64 new allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, involving 77 victims, between July and September across its various offices, agencies, and partner organizations implementing its programmes. Six involved peacekeepers, 33 involved personnel from UN agencies, funds and programmes, and another 25 concerned non-UN staff working with organizations implementing UN programmes.

LGBT

A new dimension to the #MeToo debate was revealed when The New York University (NYU) upheld accusations of sexual harassment against respected lesbian philosopher Avital Ronell by Nimrod Reitman, her former male PhD  student identifying as gay. The NYU title IX investigation found her harassment of her former student was “sufficiently pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of Mr. Reitman’s learning environment”. This case bore the hallmark of psychological abuse of power – which is in my experience at the core of this issue. This would be a difficult assignment for any investigator outside the LGBT community. It is a reminder that at the core of #MeToo is power imbalance and proper process.

Bollywood comes on-board

On the anniversary of the birth of the #MeToo movement, the Harvey Weinstein allegations from 5 October 2017 have ignited Bollywood. Tanushree Dutta outed actor Nana Patekar and filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri for behaviour over a decade ago. Actor Rajat Kapoor has been called out for alleged sexual harassment on Twitter with two women accusing him of inappropriate behaviour, which included a request in an interview to “tell me your vital stats.”

Rajat has posted an apology on Twitter saying, “All my life I have tried to be a decent man, to do the right thing. If, however, I have slipped and through my actions or words caused pain or hurt or trauma to absolutely anybody, please accept my apology. I am sorry from the bottom of my heart – and sad that I was the cause of this hurt to another human being. If there is one thing more important to me than even my work, it is to be a good human being. And I have tried to be that person. And now, I will try harder.”

Where speaking out requires even more courage

The Bollywood saga was catalysed on 4 October when a female comedian tweeted accusing comedian Utsav Chakraborty (33) of sending her an unsolicited photo of his penis. Corroboration of this same behaviour from the same individual known as “sexting” was confirmed in other Bollywood quarters in reply to her tweet, which stated that images of the said penis had arrived uninvited in their quarters with requests for nude photos.

As an investigator in this field and a generation removed from sexting practices, I concur with one of Chakraborty’s tweets that the “whole thing needs a lot of patience, and an incredible amount of context”. It has to be remembered that in certain cultural contexts it takes even more courage to speak out about sexual abuse.

Up to 70 per cent of women face physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to available country data. Most violence takes place in intimate relationships (UN women 2018). The great majority of it remains unreported. Bollywood will hopefully pave the way for Asian women to speak out!

But there’s still a big gap between speaking out and getting your voice heard as a woman. A study of humanitarian journalism, published that same month, noted: “Gender was treated in a very narrow way within humanitarian reporting during 2017. Almost no articles looked at the specific problems faced by women and girls in relation to the conflicts in Yemen and South Sudan. Many (largely female) journalists wanted to cover more varied stories about the issues faced by women and girls, but found it hard to get these stories commissioned.”

Caroline Hunt-Matthes. Human  Rights & SEA Investigator and Faculty Member of Webster University Geneva and lecturer at Grenoble Business School (GEM).

* Editors Note

In fact, the WFP does comment on matters related to sexual harassment. It made a statement about another harassment allegation published by The Guardian on 25 January 2018 which confirmed: “The staff member concerned has been suspended while the disciplinary process is under way.”  Beasley even issued a statement the day before promising new actions to combat sexual harassment. “I know that some of our WFP colleagues are afraid to speak up, believing that they cannot even think about filing a complaint about misconduct because their jobs will be threatened or their careers derailed. That kind of atmosphere is unacceptable.” He added: “I want WFP to be a leader on this issue.” He promised to listen to women at all levels of WFP about these issues. It would be interesting to know whether the WFP boss has spoken to the complainant – or does it just apply to WFP officials and this was just a way of ducking the problem with deceptive words?

The State of Humanitarian Journalism report, by Martin Scott, Kate Wright and Mel Bunce, is available in PDF format from humanitarian-journalism.net

 

LEAVE A REPLY