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Harassment and educational institutions: what shall be kept in mind?

Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson Birutė Sabatauskaitė had issued a warning for one centre of non-formal youth education due to its inaction with regards to the harassment on the grounds of age, experienced by one pupil. During a competition, according to the victim, the chairperson of a selection board demeaned a participant when assuming that she was too young to prepare the methodology of a research project herself. "Go ask your mum for advice," the chairperson said [1].

The chairperson derogated a pupil's abilities by using unprofessional expressions related to age and sex.

According to B. Sabatauskaitė, such a case is a pertinent reminder that educational institutions such as schools, universities and other education providers must make sure the dignity of their pupils or students is respected. "Lecturers, teachers and other convenors, when assessing the knowledge, making comments on the projects, research papers or essays, research proposals, etc., have to remember that it is them who are in the position of power, and it is strictly forbidden to use it for harassing others with regards to their sex, age and other grounds. It is not only unprofessional and unethical but also contradicts the Law on Equal Treatment of the Republic of Lithuania," says the Ombudsperson.

Harassment is one of many forms of discrimination. It is any unwanted conduct that occurs with the purpose, or effect, of violating the dignity of a person, and of creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment. It can be expressed either verbally, physically or in written form. When dealing with harassment case, it involves assessing whether a victim had experienced negative implications. The fact that a law violating individual did not intend to offend or express some form of derogation is neither extenuating nor acquitting circumstance.

According to the Law on Equal Treatment, it is forbidden to harass on the grounds of sex, race, nationality, citizenship, language, origin, social status, belief, convictions or views, age, sexual orientation, disability, ethnic origin, or religion.

Educational institutions, as well as other education providers, must preclude any harassment or instruction to harass. Students and pupils who experience possible harassment are encouraged to inform the administrative bodies of the institutions and (or) approach the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson.

Before submitting a complaint, it is recommended for those having experienced harassment in educational institutions to:

-      If possible, record the situation where harassment occurs. Voice or video recording is legal proof if made under the condition that a person seeks to defend their interests.

-      Keep and save harassing emails or text messages. Even if keeping the harassing content might not sound appealing, it is helpful for the Ombudsperson to assess the situation in an unbiased manner.

-      Prepare a written form of such a negative experience. It is of utmost importance to commit to paper all the repercussions; it is also advised to share the story with others.

-      Ask for witnesses to testify if they were observers or/and bystanders in a specific situation. The identities of witnesses are always kept secret.

Do not forget that lecturers, teachers, convenors, interlocutors, and other assessors do have the right to express constructive criticism, which might not be appealing to accept. Such a rational and weighed critique, however, is not compatible with harassment, humiliation, or another form of derogation.

 

[1] In order not to disclose the identity of the victim, only a part of the quote is presented there, omitting some details.

Birutė Sabatauskaitė

Birutė Sabatauskaitė

Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson of the Republic of Lithuania

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