Women’s activists and student representatives in the North have pointed out the need to educate women and students on the possible vulnerable situations they could face in educational institutes and workplaces.
The need for awareness has been emphasized in the North following the recent incident where a schoolgirl was sexually abused and killed in Kayts. The incident had also triggered allegations of instances where sexual favors were sought from students in order to increase gradings and marks.
Even though there had been no concrete evidence for such instances, the Jaffna University Students Union stated that there had been reports of such incidents in the past and that a lecturer was in fact suspended from the university.
The Student Union of the Jaffna University had urged university officials to ensure that those who indulged in such activities be severely dealt with.
He pointed out that lecturers would be tempted to demand sexual bribes from students in order to ensure good marks, while students could also offer themselves to lecturers willingly for the same result
“There are reports. But they do not come out because of societal pressures and the impact that it could have on students. However, we urge the authorities to look at this issue seriously,” a student union representative said.
Meanwhile, women activists in the North have also urged for an urgent need for awareness among the public on the issues faced by women and female students.
A government official attached to Women’s Development unit of the Jaffna Government Agent’s office, who spoke on grounds of anonymity, stated that even though no formal complaints had been made pertaining to such allegations, authorities had been asked to ensure that culprits are punished if proven guilty.
“What needs to be done immediately is to educate the students on what they could do when they are faced with such situation. In addition, the public at large also need to understand the laws pertaining to women protection. These girls could face uncomfortable situations in places and by people they least expect,” the official who wished to be anonymous said.
A few years ago, a senior lecturer of the university was suspended after a student had lodged a complaint with the university authorities that he had sought sexual favors and had threatened to reduce her grades if she did not comply with his request.
However, following the death of Vithya, allegations of such instances resurfaced especially in social media platforms.
However, the Women Development Unit official stated that despite allegations, a formal complaint had to be registered with them in order to probe the matter.
The official pointed out that a key issue was that the victims were reluctant to come out in the open due to societal and cultural issues in the region. “This makes it difficult to identify them and provide them with psychological assistance,” the official added.
Convener of the Inter University Student’s Federation (IUSF) Najith Indika said while he was unaware of any specific incidents regarding sexual bribes being sought from students or of sexual harassment at campus level in the North and East, there was no denying that such incidents could take place.
He said one specific matter that could lead to such situations, and one that they have been raising for a long time, was lack of transparency in the issuing of examination results and final grades.
This matter is related to all universities, he said. “A student’s grades depend entirely on one or two lecturers who act as examiners. As such, sometimes, a single individual has the power to decide not just whether a student achieves a pass mark, but even what type of class they get regarding honors. This opens the system up for abuse, both by lecturers and by students,” he explained.
He pointed out that lecturers would be tempted to demand sexual bribes from students in order to ensure good marks, while students could also offer themselves to lecturers willingly for the same result. The situation is such that an average student who suddenly achieved a good grade through sheer hard work would be subjected to malicious gossip, even when no wrongdoing had been committed.
The best way to counter all this, Indika opined, was for students to be given access to their examination papers and projects after they had been marked. The current system does not give students such access. “By opening up the process and making it more transparent is one way of resolving such matters,” he further said.