Recurring higher education sexual harassment cases: Where is the whistleblowing system?
A sexual harassment case at a university in Indonesia a few months ago added to the long list of sexual violence cases in Indonesian higher education institutions.
The emergence of this case to the public began when a female student, the victim of sexual harassment, spoke out on social media about the incident. The post, which included the identity of the alleged perpetrator, went viral.
The crisis of an inadequate system
This case of sexual harassment on campus is not the first of its kind. Instead of being a lesson learned for all higher education institutions on the importance of implementing an effective whistleblowing system, cases keep recurring.
Nowadays, rather than reporting the incident to their institution or the police, victims of harassment have turned to the public through social media. This needs to be a reason for reflection for universities in general.
There are several reasons why someone may choose to report a case through social media. These reasons include an inaccessible or ill-informed reporting mechanism, a high risk of retaliation from the organization, skepticism about the follow-up responses from internal parties, and the unavailability of the option to be an anonymous reporter.
For this case in particular, allegedly, the victim did not know about or was unable to find the proper reporting mechanisms within the campus.
When a whistleblowing system is absent or exists but is not running effectively, social media becomes a logical choice in the hope that their report will receive the attention of institutions and authorities.
Unfortunately, in this case, public pressure led to other violations of the law: the persecution of the perpetrators. Acts of persecution aimed to create a deterrent effect on perpetrators of sexual harassment actually create new problems.
However, the “sanction” of using the opinions of internet users to punish perpetrators of sexual harassment is increasingly widespread. Many social media accounts have sprung up that intend to expose perpetrators of sexual harassment from various campuses.
This phenomenon should be an impetus for universities to improve their governance by implementing an appropriate reporting mechanism to avoid using social media as a medium for uncontrolled complaints.
What can an effective whistleblowing system do?
Based on Komnas Perempuan’s records between 2017 and 2021, most cases of sexual violence in the educational setting occurred in tertiary institutions.
In addition to the viral cases of sexual harassment that occurred in tertiary institutions, the data also reinforces the negative negation that universities tolerate and normalize behavior that violates the law and ethics.
This negative publicity will eventually become a threat to the credibility and reputation of universities.
Therefore, universities need to implement an effective complaint mechanism that allows violations to be detected as early as possible, such as a whistleblowing system. This system allows the campus community — employees and academics — to report violations and minimize potential losses.
However, for the whistleblowing system to work effectively, tertiary institutions need to strengthen policies and build the whistleblowing culture itself. One of them is with support from the top leadership in promoting their commitment that the campus community can report violations safely and confidently.
Another aspect that needs to be built into a whistleblowing system on campus is the guarantee of confidentiality and follow-up of reports. Universities must be able to ensure that the anonymity of the reporter is maintained so that the reporter is comfortable in reporting violations.
Institutions must also be able to convince reporters that reports are followed up in a proportionate and measurable manner. If the reported case is related to the law, then the university must also be committed to processing the report with the authorities.
In Indonesia, some universities may have already implemented a complaint mechanism. However, there is still a lot of room for universities to improve and develop a whistleblowing system and strengthen their policies so that the campus community has a sense of security and comfort in exposing violations within the institution.
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