Wednesday April 2 2014

Act fast on sexual harassment claims

The allegations of sexual assault made by female athletes participating in a training camp towards a male coach are serious, but no one seems to be taking them seriously.

Someone – some authority, most likely the Uganda Athletics Federation (UAF), or someone with courage – needs to stand up and take charge to determine, first, if the allegations are true and, after making a determination, pursue appropriate avenues, legal or otherwise, to ensure justice is served.

That is in the best interest of everyone, including the accused if the allegations are proved wrong, and most definitely the accusers, if these serious allegations about an alleged sexual predator in their midst are proved true.

The issue arose after a one-month training camp, during which the female athletes say they were sexually assaulted and encouraged to get pregnant by a male coach. The acts, they say, were without consent.

Once the allegations became public, the UAF, which was overseeing their training, should have stepped forward immediately to investigate and demand action beyond the Kapchorwa District authorities banning the said coach in the interim. Obviously, if they banned the coach, they give a strong perception that they believe the allegations had merit.

But that’s where it appears to have ended. Although UAF last week said they would appoint a committee to investigate the matter, they also affirmed that it was now a police matter. If convinced the allegations are true, the UAF must insist that the police pursue the matter – immediately.

Given that it is assumed UAF are charged with working in the best interests of all the athletes (including women), the obligation rests on that organisation to ensure what needs to be done is done. It should not fall just on the alleged victims. This inaction and apparent apathy to these allegations, if true, has a devastating result: The victims continue to be victimised.

The UAF needs to act now in the interests of all -- the accused, if wrongly named; the accusers, if victimized; and the UAF, whose reputation is at stake given that they are there to promote and, as important, protect those they represent.

The truth is what needs to be revealed here, and it’s the UAF’s responsibility to ensure the truth emerges.
What’s been revealed, instead, is a perceived “we don’t care” from the UAF.
That’s never an appropriate response, especially in a matter as serious as this.