UNAM, the IPN, and ENAH universities lack preventive measures against sexual harassment, peer harassment, rapes, and even femicides in their facilities. It is through students’, academics’ and workers’ complaints, as well as stoppages in schools, to seek justice, that this problem has aroused. No institution clearly states the limits in the teacher-student relationship, so encouraging “friendships,» “engagements,» and sexual harassment. This first report shows the case of UNAM: 499 aggressors identified throughout three years.
Four hundred ninety-nine aggressors have been identified among 950 complaints about gender-based violence received by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) – between August 2016 and August 2019. The major university in the country admits that, in many cases, these harassers exercise more than one kind of violence against their victims.
That is why the following sanctions have been established: 119 terminations of contacts, 17 expulsions, nine non-renewal of zero-hour contracts, 180 suspensions, 104 warnings, 18 warrants, 16 signatures of letters of intent, 20 agreements between the parties, two administrative acts.
What is more, throughout the three years, another 22 cases have been declared groundless as – before concluding the proceedings – the alleged responsible people died accidentally or intentionally, renounced, retired or got fired for other causes.
All the cases sanctioned were linked to committed aggression, considering that UNAM is one of the three major public universities in the country lacking preventive measures against harassment, peer harassment, and other kinds of sexual and gender-based violence within their facilities. The National Polytechnic Institute – IPN – (Instituto Politécnico Nacional) and the National School of Anthropology and History – ENAH – (Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia) are the other two concerned universities.
Although the leading university in the nation relies on a protocol for tackling gender-based violence and the IPN on a protocol of the Ministry of Public Education, both mechanisms are “illusory,» experts affirm. Indeed, they have not solved the violence issues taking place in the classrooms and other university campuses.
Regarding ENAH, female students denounce the disappearance of the Protocol on Gender Violence in the current administration of Julieta Valle Esquivel, director of the institution since 2016. Therefore, these students, along with female academics and workers, drafted a proposal for a mechanism to assist violence victims. However, it has been rejected.
The case of UNAM
The UNAM authorities have recognized the existence of the problem within their facilities. It is indeed proven by the protocol that the university had implemented in 2016 to tackle this issue. Since then, the instrument has been modified to be updated and to give major resonance to the problem. Nonetheless, it is evident that “there is still much to be improved.» This statement is what the university authorities answered in response to the strikes held in November at the faculties of Political and Social Sciences, Philosophy and Humanities in the municipality of Cuautitlán when demonstrators sought justice for the cases of sexual harassment occurred in these schools.
Mónica González Contró, advocate general of the University, showed through some data that in 3 years – from its implementation, on August 29, 2016, to August 2019 – 950 complaints were filed under the framework of the Protocol on Gender-based Violence of UNAM. It suggests that there has been an increase of complaints by 1 thousand percent, considering that throughout 13 years – from January 2003 to August 2016 – only 396 complaints of this kind had been registered.
According to Article 13 of the General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence, harassment is “the exercise of power, in a relationship of real subordination of the victim to the aggressor in work/school environments.» Whereas, peer harassment is the exercise of power “in a symmetric relationship among peers,» Alejandra Buggs Lomelí- director of the Centre of Mental Health and Gender in Mexico -explains to Contralínea. Both phenomena present in High-schools, College of Sciences and Humanities, Faculties, schools, Institutes, and other university facilities as well as their museums.
Besides the fear to denounce, the ignorance of the concepts and the instruments of support and denunciation is one of the most crucial problems. It is in the technical language in which the protocols are written that lies the issue, affirms Yolitzin Sillas Rangel, lawyer of the Universidad de Aguascalientes.
The clinical psychologist at the Universidad de las Américas, Ms. Buggs Lomelí, points out that another impediment is its meager diffusion. She adds that no academic institutions «is willing to inform society that within their facilities, there are events of harassment, peer harassment, rapes, and even femicides.» That is why there is little dissemination of the mechanisms and the inexistence of preventive measures.
The Faculty of Political and Social Sciences
Besides the technical language employed and poor dissemination, there is a lack of empathy and sensitiveness and, the worst, impunity. That is why 11 departments of the University struck seeking a real solution. The following represents the most fighting schools: the Faculty of Higher Studies Cuautitlán – that has retained activities since October 23, the Faculty of Philosophy and Humanities – since November 4, and the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences.
Schoolgirls of the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences affirmed that the teachers pointed out as alleged harassers keep on giving classes. They claimed this idea during one of the numerous demonstrations held throughout this year, and that lasted ten days- from November 5 to 15 – to highlight the gravity of the matter.
The issue is deep-rooted and not shallow. The authorities of the Faculty address only formal complaints but not anonymous ones such as those filed through the so-called clothes horse (the banners showing the names of the alleged harassers, as well as the warnings made to them, stuck in public places in the school, such as the cafeteria) or social networks (for instance, through the #MeToo movement).
This way, it is always the student’s word against the teacher’s, highlighting that there is not a preventive mechanism in place: the acts are investigated only once committed. Moreover, the authorities privilege the presumption of innocence of the accused and «due process,» which implies the presentation of pieces of evidence and witnesses in an asymmetric and power relationship.
In lawyer Yolitzin Sillas’ opinion, the respect for equality between the parties is of utmost importance, since in a situation of gender-based violence, they will never be in equal conditions for the power exercised against the victim.
On November 8, 2019, the Faculty admitted that Doc. Angélica Cuéllar’s administration has terminated «the contracts to professors, workers, and clerks who had been denounced against the Legal Unit,» under the framework of the Protocol, without specifying their number. This practice highlights that acts of gender-based violence have been committed throughout the years, as pointed out by university students.
Besides, Octavio Solís, the university counselor of the UNAM Trade Union, explained to Contralínea that in the major university of the country, directors of faculties and schools cannot terminate teachers’ labor contracts if there are no formal complaints nor judicial investigation. That is why the alleged harassers “keep on giving classes.»
Due to the absence of such proceedings, authorities “try not to assign any group to these professors,» or they do not renovate their contracts not to have political problems and clean the institutional image, he adds.
According to the legal department of the Faculty of Political Science, the Office of the Advocate General of UNAM is the first place where an alleged victim of sexual harassment may go. In case the alleged victim proceeds with the complaint, they have to fill in a form to register their data.
Lawyer Alfonso Lozano Rebollo, a member of the Legal Department of this Faculty, takes the view that «they investigate until the name of the aggressor, that regularly is a man, is found.» If necessary, the cases are brought to a hearing of the University Court (the last instance of the University). At the hearing, the school’s dean, the faculty’s counselors, the court, and those involved (the defendant to defend themselves) meet each other.
However, students also members of the NO-FCPyS feminist collective accused, in a statement, the administration of Doc. Angélica Cuéllar «not to eradicate gender-based violence» from the Faculty.
Female students pointed out that the way the lawyers treated them was “revictimizing” in addition to “slowing down the complaint processes and hinder justice.» They try to “convince” the victims to discontinue the proceedings and first notify the defendant about the outcome of the case.
The UNAM’s Protocol: bureaucratic and revictimizing
Lawyer Yolitzin Sillas remarks that the origin of the problem lies in the Protocol on Gender-based Violence since it lacks clarity: its language is indeed very “technical,» and it foresees “a bureaucratic and revictimizing process.»
Its language is highly technical since the protocol is addressed to those who will implement it: law experts focused on the study of gender-based violence, or institutions appointed to deal with the cases. The document should be “more accessible to the victims,» lawyer Sillas Rangel notes.
The flowcharts showing the complaint process and the timing to finalize the investigation are ‘confused and extensive; the guidelines do not lead anywhere,’ the lawyer observes.
UNAM foresees two potential proceedings to fail a complaint: the formal and the alternative employing a restorative approach. The difference lies in the fact that the alternative method relies on the principles of equity. Hence, it focuses “on the needs of the affected people.»
The revictimization “could” be envisioned in the “urgent protective measures” offered to the person filing the complaint, as they have an impact on the victim’s actions and not the likely aggressor, says Yolitzin Sillas, a lawyer with a major in gender studies from the Autonomous University of Madrid.
These measures consist of providing the person filing the complaint with a different shift, group or staff, establishing communication measures through third parties or electronic means, entrusting someone else than the alleged aggressor to carry out the evaluation process. In other words, «the pertinent measures for each case» will be implemented, as referred to in point 48 of the Protocol.
The victim rights are not specified either, so discouraging the affected people from taking a step forward in the denunciation process. They feel violented for a second time, even more than when they suffered the violation.
Besides the Protocol, the Autonomous University of Mexico relies on Guidelines on Gender Equality. After analyzing them, lawyer Sillas Rangel asserts that the provided definitions are “incorrect.»
For instance, the definition of the two terms ‘peer harassment and ‘harassment’ is the same. Article 2 of the Guidelines defines both entries as ‘a kind of gender-based violence characterized by an exercise of power in a relationship of subordination of the victim to the aggressor in work and school environments. It is expressed through verbal or physical conducts, or both, linked to the sexuality of lascivious connotation’.
Both “allude to subordination. It is dangerous, as actually, it is correct to talk about harassment when there is a subordination of the victim to the aggressor. Whereas, peer harassment occurs among peers, hence, in a linear relationship’, she reiterates.
The university advocacy general recognizes, in the Protocol itself, that it can be perfectible. Moreover, such perfectibility must be implemented quickly. Lawyer Yolitzin Sillas considers that the Protocol should be revised every 2 or 3 years.
Leonardo Olivos Santoyo, a member of the Committee for Ethics of Humanities Subsystem, remarks that the University Council agreed on the creation of the Protocol only because it was an initiative of dean Enrique Graue. ‘He managed the University according to the disgustingly PRI (Revolutionary Institutional Party) standards, but I think that at the bottom of their hearts, they were truly annoyed, angry that there was a Protocol of attention to violence. It seemed irrational to them’.
No preventive measures
The best university in Latin America, according to international rankings, does not rely on a preventive measure to address peer harassment, harassment, and sexual violence, as a code of ethics may be. “There is nothing explicit,» such as the existence of a document where teacher-student relationships are regulated, assures Ms. Amparo Ruiz del Castillo, Ph.D. in sociology with a major in teaching from the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of UNAM.
As shown by the 2019 Report on the implementation of the Protocol on gender-based violence that occurred in UNAM, 436 were the complaints concerning gender violence filed from June 2018 to June 2019. In the majority of the cases, young university students, between 18 and 24 years old, denounced the facts.
Throughout this period, they found 385 alleged aggressors, members of the UNAM community. In most of the cases, they were professors of the faculties and institutions located on the university campus. The report shows that in 94.5 percent of the cases, the harassers were males, and 44.5 percent of them were academics.
In the short period running from January to June 2019, 109 complaints about peer harassment and sexual harassment were registered, UNAM admits in response to the request for information F64400000158719, made by Contralínea.
For over five months, this magazine has tried to set up an interview with the University advocate general, Mónica González Contró, to discuss the issue. However, the Direction of Social Communication did not provide an answer.
At the end of the roundtable on ‘Restorative justice to address cases of gender-based violence’ – held on the past August 28 – the lawyer was asked about the lack of measures to prevent sexual violence and the real outcome of the implementation of the Protocol. Furthermore, they questioned her about the complaint process, as well as the foreseen sanctions for the professors committing harassment.
Visibly annoyed, the Ph.D. in fundamental right from the Autonomous University of Madrid just replied:
—I cannot answer. I am not an expert. I came to a merely academic event. Let me answer the questions related to restorative justice.
The advocate general provides legal coverage to a community of 356 thousand 530 students and 41 thousand 318 academics, researchers, and assistants, of which 12 thousand 368 work full time.
This population is distributed in higher education – 15 faculties, five multidisciplinary unities, and nine public schools – baccalaureate – nine campuses of the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria (National High-school) and five of the College of Sciences and Humanities – and research – 34 institutions, 14 centers, and 12 university programs.
Translated by: Federica Antoniani