Wednesday, December 8

Ángela Bernardo: Harassment in Spanish science: breaking the law of silence | Science


The first time that Alba (not her real name) entered the office of her fellow professor at the University of Seville, she wanted to introduce herself as a new professor in the department. For many people, the new year begins in September. That’s when it’s time to cover the books, leave the laziness of summer behind and return to the classroom. In college, it’s often a busy time. Classes begin and in the corridors of the faculties there is a bustle of people every day. With the end of the holidays, everything smells new, brand new. Some even begin a different life with the start of the academic year. Something like this happened to Alba, who in 2006 had achieved a teaching position at the faculty. But that exciting moment soon turned into a terrible nightmare.

During that first meeting, while they were chatting about academic matters, the professor approached Alba and, without her having time to react, touched her breast. Seconds later, the teacher took the opportunity to touch the inside of her thighs telling her “how good she was.” It was the first time, but not the only time. On another occasion, Alba had to go to the professor’s office, located in the dean. He locked the door and began to tell her about the teaching positions, while bringing his genitals very close to the teacher’s face. Shortly after, he sat down next to her and put his hand on her leg until he reached Alba’s vagina. Immediately, she got up and left. But, weeks later, they met again. This time it happened on the stairs of the faculty, where he told her that a lump had come out: “Here in the eggs, touch it, touch it.”

The sentence of the Provincial Court of Seville Among his proven facts, he includes the hell that Alba had to live. Other times, the professor went to meet her and, despite the teacher’s rejection, kissed her on the mouth and licked her neck. On some occasions, he did it in college; others, in daylight, in the heart of the city. As a result, Alba began to experience intense discomfort and to have nightmares and night sweats. After a brief absence from work, his health problems worsened. The teacher began to lose weight and vomit, among other symptoms. The toilets who treated her did not explain what was happening to her. She was even diagnosed and treated for false tuberculosis. In reality, her symptoms shared a single origin: the behavior that the professor maintained towards her.

Cover of 'Harassment'.
Cover of ‘Harassment’.

Although Alba was unaware of it then, she was not the only victim. In fact, according to the ruling, the professor at the University of Seville made several non-consensual touching to two other teachers between 2006 and 2010. It was not just any time: the professor was a powerful man, since until 2009 he had been dean faculty. When he left the position he held, he became a department director and took it upon himself to show his victims the academic power he continued to have. Whether or not he was in charge, according to the proven facts of the sentence, “it was he who made the relevant decisions regarding teaching, research, hiring, etc.” I mean, no one could contradict him, apparently. All the people who were at his side had to follow his orders, such as appointing him the director of doctoral theses or including him in academic publications. “Those who did not agree to their claims could have problems keeping their positions,” according to the ruling. Alba and the other two complainants knew about it.

The second victim, Maite (also not her real name), had entered college shortly before Alba. In 2007, the professor went to the professor’s office, when he still held the post of dean, to ask him various questions about how to direct the research activity. At one point, she burst into tears. In response, he sat next to her and placed one hand on her back and the other on her thigh. Maite froze and, to her stupor, the professor took the opportunity to put three fingers on her crotch, which the teacher pushed toward her knee with force. On other occasions, the professor approached her side and tried to touch her breasts, even succeeding. He also didn’t seem to mind finding himself in the presence of other people. In 2009, according to the ruling, the teacher approached Maite while she was holding the young son of another teacher and touched her crotch.

The teachers commented on this to several people, who had an obligation to have promoted an action to protect them and did not do anything

Amparo Díaz Ramos, lawyer

The professor’s behavior with Rosa (not her real name), the third victim, was similar. She worked at the faculty thanks to a research grant. Although his first meetings with the professor had passed normally, the situation changed soon after. One day Rosa came to his office and he took the opportunity to touch her ass while he was leering at her. When she tried to move away, the teacher placed his hands on the researcher’s chest. Later, while he was explaining the tasks she had to carry out to advance in her career, she took Rosa’s hands and placed them on her genitals. At that time, the professor still held the post of dean. A year later, Rosa could not prevent him from kissing her on the mouth on several occasions, taking advantage of various meetings in his office.

During that five-year period, in addition, the professor took advantage of his power to isolate people who did not follow his instructions. And for this, according to the ruling, he had the collaboration of people around him, both administration workers and university services as well as other teachers and researchers. The threat that loomed over Alba, Maite and Rosa was real. He had a name and surname. Their academic future depended heavily on whoever harassed and abused them continuously for almost five years. The behaviors they suffered uninterruptedly also had the cooperation of people around the professor. Unfortunately, entering college, which for them had started out as exciting, had soon turned into hell. No one lifted a finger to prevent it. The law of silence reigned in the corridors of the faculty.

“People around the victim often act as an accomplice to silence. The victim is not only uncomfortable due to the harasser’s behavior, but also due to the lack of support from their peers, from their colleagues ”, explains the psychologist Esperanza Bosch, who has carried out studies on the matter. That is why it is so important to change the environment within organizations, including those in the academic sector. But it is not always easy to have mechanisms and people who act to break the law of silence and support the victims. Alba, Maite and Rosa, teachers and researchers at the University of Seville, ran into a wall when they came to ask for help. “The teachers commented on this to several people, who had an obligation to have promoted an action to protect them and they did nothing,” says lawyer Amparo Díaz Ramos, who represented one of the victims.

The Criminal Court of Seville It condemned the Seville institution as a subsidiary civil liable, a consideration that was confirmed in its ruling by the Seville Provincial Court. In particular, following the harassment of the professor, the teachers asked the head of their department for help. He limited himself to asking them what their wish was in the face of what happened and offered them his company when they went to the office of the then dean, apart from recommending that they not be alone with the professor who harassed and abused them. In addition, the director of their department also advised them to “get along” with the professor, based on proven facts, “to avoid other problems.” For justice, the null support that Alba, Maite and Rosa had received on their part was key to condemn the University of Seville in this case.

Later, Alba, Maite and Rosa did receive support from the Vice-Rector’s Office and the Occupational Risk Prevention Service, but their help, according to the ruling, did not prevent the University of Seville from being considered a subsidiary civil liability for what happened. “People changed, they reached other instances and there began to be an intervention,” confirms Díaz Ramos. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. In the lawyer’s opinion, it is important that academic institutions, made up of “many people”, make it clear “what is the way in which each member” of the community has to intervene in this matter. For the jurist Alicia González, this sentence offers us a very clear lesson, as explained by video call: “The University of Seville, with or without protocol, had a legal obligation, not only moral, but also, to have stopped that from the minute one”. The Provincial Court, through a final sentence, that is, before which there is no recourse, confirmed the guilt and sentenced the professor to two years and eight months in prison after having proven that he was the author of three continuous crimes of sexual abuse. In addition, the teacher was also punished with compensation of fifty thousand euros to the first victim and thirty thousand euros to each of the other two for the physical and mental damage that he had caused them for years.

Bullying. #MeToo in Spanish science ‘. Angela Bernardo Álvarez. Next Door Publishers, 2021. 250 pages. 20 euros.

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