Banning workplace romances won’t solve the problem of sexual misconduct in the office



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Malcolm Turnbull gave several justifications for his ban on ministers having sexual relationships with their staff.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Paula McDonald, Queensland University of Technology

The recent revelation of a sexual relationship between Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and a young woman working in his office has created considerable embarrassment for the government and those involved. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull responded by announcing that sexual relations between ministers and their staff will be prohibited under a change to the ministerial code of conduct.




Read more:
Turnbull announces sex ban – and signals Joyce should consider his position


Turnbull gave several justifications for the ban. These included that although ministers were entitled to privacy in personal matters, they must lead by example because they occupy positions of responsibility and trust.

Recently in the US, sexual relationships between Capitol Hill lawmakers and their staffers were prohibited in response to multiple scandals and in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Inappropriate and unlawful sexual behaviour at work

To judge whether workplace relationship bans are an effective or appropriate response to alleged or actual sexual misconduct, we must first understand the difference between “inappropriate” sexual relationships and unlawful sexual behaviour.

Unlawful sexual conduct includes sexual abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour that makes someone feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It is not interaction, flirtation or friendship that is mutual or consensual.

In contrast, inappropriate relationships – while not explicitly unlawful – are usually associated with unequal power relationships.




Read more:
What’s the difference between sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape?


Organisational codes of conduct often set out guidelines around the behaviour of supervisors and managers over their subordinates. A power imbalance between two employees may arise due to age, seniority or other factors, such as the capacity to influence outcomes.

The development of a sexual relationship in particular – even if it is apparently consensual – creates the potential for abuse of position, for damage to the less-empowered and potentially vulnerable individual, and for conflicts of interests to arise.

A common requirement in codes of employee conduct is for the person with the greater power to notify their supervisor of the relationship and immediately cease any decision-making role in respect of the subordinate. Such guidelines raise awareness of the potential for workplace relationships that may lead to later problems for those involved, and raise risks for organisational reputation and functioning.

By providing a clear course of action, such codes of conduct also acknowledge that workplace relationships do occur.

In contrast, outright bans on consensual sexual relationships at work are likely to be seen by many employees as over-reaching into their private lives. They may also perceive that it undermines their autonomy and dignity.

Retail fashion chain American Apparel recently introduced a policy barring managers from engaging in romantic relationships with employees over whom they had a perceived or actual influence. The policy also mandated the disclosure of such relationships – not to the person’s supervisor, but the human resources department.

Romantic relationships were defined broadly, and included both casual dating as well as committed relationships.

Public/private boundaries

In recent years, a considerable blurring of public/private boundaries in organisational life has occurred. Examples include the installation and monitoring of CCTV in workplaces, the enforcement of wearable surveillance devices that measure employees’ productivity in real time, and the “profiling” of job applicants through searches for private online information.

These employer actions have reshaped the boundaries between the relatively public sphere of work and the private lives of employees.

Workplace relationship bans may also be impractical and have unintended consequences. Many people meet their future partners at work or engage in short- or long-term consensual relationships that run their course.

The prospects of an employer effectively standing between two adults who are attracted to each other, or who fall in love, and preventing a relationship developing between them, seems slim.

Worse, bans may drive relationships underground. Employees who fear punitive consequences from ignoring a codified directive will likely conduct the relationship in secret. This may obfuscate loyalties and threaten the development of trust among co-workers. Engaging in a secretive relationship when those involved would prefer it was open may also prove stressful.

At its most extreme, regulating workplace relationships may damage women’s careers rather than contribute to them through a raising of professional standards.

Some male executives and senior politicians such as US Vice-President Mike Pence have been said to avoid working with women altogether to avoid being accused of inappropriate behaviour. This constrains opportunities for sensitive and strategic workplace discussions, and holds women back from key advancement opportunities.

Balancing competing interests

Joyce’s case raises several important issues insofar as preventing fall-out when colleagues engage in romantic and/or sexual relationships.

Banning relationships is likely to be ineffective and may result in disengagement, secrecy and resentment by employees of the encroachment of employment policies into genuinely private matters.

Outright bans also imply a connection between sexual misconduct and romantic relationships that is dubious at best. For example, although some sexual harassment cases arise following the breakdown of a former consensual relationship, most do not.

Preventing and redressing sexual harassment and achieving gender equality requires far more nuanced and multi-faceted approaches.

However, relationships of unequal power clearly need to be carefully managed to avoid the harmful consequences that may result for those involved. This can be achieved through carefully crafted and implemented policies and practices that raise awareness among employees of expectations about professional behaviour and where the greatest risks lie.

However, power comes in many forms. And it can only be judged on the basis of the particular circumstances and people involved.

Policies must also be sensitive to balancing the competing interests of employees and employers. This includes employees’ interests in privacy and autonomy, and employer interests in promoting workplace harmony and avoiding reputational damage.

The ConversationResponses need to also acknowledge the reality that relationships between consenting adults are an inevitable and almost certainly enduring feature of many contemporary workplaces. Attempting to ban them is unlikely to be a panacea.

Paula McDonald, Professor of Work and Organisation, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Vietnamese Authorities Demolish Home, Church Headquarters


Long-harassed Mennonite leader fought expropriation; 20 Bible students arrested, sent home.

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, December 17 (CDN) — An estimated 500 soldiers and police here cordoned off the church headquarters and home of the Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang on Tuesday (Dec. 14), and then heavy equipment operators quickly demolished the two-story building, sources said.  

Mennonite Pastor Quang and his followers did not interfere with the demolition, the local sources said, but an altercation occurred away from the scene in which authorities knocked him unconscious after he objected to the arrest of some 20 Bible school students. Though police tried hard to confiscate cameras and cell phones, the demolition and the church’s version of events made it onto videos available online.

The demolition was the culmination an expropriation battle over the property. The area of the city where the Mennonite center was located, Thu Thiem in District 2, has been zoned for urban development, and the government has been expropriating land for this purpose. Those who had built before 1992 got a set price per meter, and those like Pastor Quang who built after the government purportedly announced development plans were offered only half that amount.  

Pastor Quang, who has legal training, appealed and helped a number of neighbors to do so as well.

Victims of the Mennonite church expropriation said the government was using legal means as a pretext for suppressing their church.

“They are always looking for such excuses to suppress us,” said one leader who requested anonymity. “This event was carefully planned since at least September, when they started slandering Pastor Quang in the newspapers.”

Prior to the demolition, he said, various officials barged into the center and “terrorized” Pastor Quang’s family.   

“The demolition itself, involving hundreds of government people, was pulled off with great precision,” he said. “During the demolition, they not only cordoned off the site, but we hear they also disabled the cell phones of some other church leaders in the city.”

With a history of confronting government injustices and providing moral support to dissident groups, Pastor Quang has long been the object of official resentment. He and other Mennonites were arrested in 2004, and several spent time in prison for “resisting an officer doing his duty.” Strong international advocacy secured an early release for him.

On Tuesday (Dec. 14) he was moving 20 or so resident Bible school students to a place he had rented nearby in the event of heavy-handed action by the government. He peacefully objected to the arrest of the students, sources said, but police punched him and knocked him unconscious. He was taken to a nearby police lockup and released later that day.

Pastor Quang reluctantly accepted a key to a run-down apartment in a government resettlement block in order to provide shelter for his family. Authorities put the students on buses to their homes and warned them not to return to Ho Chi Minh City.

This year officials decided to attack Pastor Quang first with a smear campaign. Since September the state media, including the Saigon Giai Phong (Liberation) newspaper, have run articles falsely accusing him of sexual misconduct, including names of his alleged partners, among other allegations. They falsely accused him of being a counterfeit pastor who ordained himself and ran what appears to be a fabricated “testimony” of a Christian who condemns Pastor Quang’s character.  

One article in Saigon Giai Phong quotes Pastor Nguyen Quang Trung, the leader of another Vietnam Mennonite church group officially recognized in 2007, as saying Pastor Quang was expelled from the denomination for misconduct. Sources said this was false, but that five years ago the two men had a falling-out that resulted in a split into two Vietnam Mennonite Churches. A member of Pastor Quang’s leadership committee told Compass that their group has more than 5,000 Christians in six districts around the country.  

Rumors of the demolition circulated for a couple of days before the event took place, allowing the Mennonites to safely take away some but not all of their documents and equipment.

Today (Dec. 16) Saigon Giai Phong and other newspapers ran long, detailed articles on the “forced expropriation” event, portraying it only as a land issue and citing the relevant laws and the court documents. The description of the events surrounding the demolition differs radically from church accounts posted on the Web and verbal accounts given to Compass. The state media account says Pastor Quang fell, knocking himself out. Christians who witnessed the event said he was brutally punched.

“Apart from the malicious slandering of Pastor Quang in the state media, the authorities in this case were very clever in trying to stay within Vietnamese ‘law’ to take action against him,” said one house church leader. “And it is no accident that the Mennonite center was the first place targeted for forced demolition, even though other property owners are also appealing.”

Some Mennonites managed to contact a foreign embassy during the demolition. Embassy staff members contacted city officials who told them it was an action of the local District 2 and they could do nothing about it.

A leader of an unregistered house church denomination told Compass that Pastor Quang draws mistreatment by being too confrontational with officials on justice issues. Pastor Quang has long tried to help Vietnam’s powerless ethnic minority Stieng people, for example; his research showed their land was illegally taken by greedy officials.

After his release from prison in 2005, Pastor Quang had several confrontations with authorities over alleged violation of building codes, and sources said it was not surprising that authorities were deeply irritated when he appealed the expropriation offer and helped neighbors to do so as well. Authorities at one point dismantled part of the improvements he had made to his property, though Pastor Quang had argued that he had done no differently than all his neighbors who erected and improved their homes at a time when regulations were not clear.

Pastor Quang does not believe Mennonite leaders should be involved in politics per se. On Nov. 9 he published a statement called, “Basic Principles Guiding the Conduct of Mennonite Pastors,” in which he eschews involvement in politics and strongly reiterates the Mennonite position of nonviolence but affirms defending basic human rights and justice.  

Mennonite leaders admit to being discouraged at receiving the “Christmas gift” of the demolition but said they would regroup as soon as possible to carry on their work.  

Report from Compass Direct News

BANGLADESH: CHRISTIAN FAMILY BEATEN, CUT – AND FACES CHARGES


Muslim neighbors, local council threaten to burn home if they file assault case.

MALUMGHAT, Bangladesh, December 8 (Compass Direct News) – The harassment that Bangladeshi converts from Islam face from Muslim neighbors in this southeastern area near Cox’s Bazar can take serious turns – as it did last month, when an attack by about a dozen Muslims left a Christian family with machete wounds.

Confident that no police would side with Christian converts from Islam, the Muslims in Chakaria town, near Cox’s Bazar 380 kilometers (236 miles) southeast of the capital city of Dhaka, later filed false charges of assault against the wounded and limping Christians, family members said.

The smallest of claims can serve to provoke such attacks. Laila Begum, a 45-year-old Christian convert from Islam, said she was helping to make disbursements for a local non-governmental micro-credit agency called Darpan in Chakaria town on Nov. 1 when 10 to 15 Muslim neighbors blocked her way and demanded 200 taka (US$3).

Begum told Compass she had borrowed 2,000 taka (US$30) last year from a neighbor, a Muslim woman who goes by the single name of Kohinoor, and this year paid her back with interest. Telling the group she would give them no more money as she had already repaid the loan, Begum said, she asked why they were demanding more.

They began beating her, snatching a pair of gold ornaments from her ear.

“Suddenly they got equipped with sticks, iron rods, knives and machetes,” she said. “Several places of my head were lacerated by machetes and iron rods. They also cut two of my fingers when I tried to fend off their attacks. They beat me in several places of my body by iron rods and sticks.”

Begum said her husband Abdur Rahman, a 48-year-old gatekeeper at Memorial Baptist Hospital, and her 27-year-old son Selim Rahman, heard her screams and were also beaten when they rushed to help her.

“They thrust at my son with machetes and a sharp knife and stabbed him in his thigh,” she said. “They beat my son with sticks and iron rods, knocking him down. They also beat the kneecap of my husband and other parts of his body.”

When her 18-year-old daughter Rosy Rahman came to their aid, the attackers punched her in the neck and chin, she said.

“They beat her in various parts of the body with sticks,” Begum said. “Shamelessly they removed her wrap over the breasts in front of dozens of onlookers.”

One of the attacking neighbors, she said, told her, “Nobody will come to save you if we beat you, because you are converted to Christianity from Islam.”

Begum, her husband and elder son were admitted to a nearby hospital. Her husband is still hobbled, walking with the aid of a stick.

“Muslim neighbors filed a case against us where they mentioned that we had beaten them – it is a false case,” Begum said. “They beat us and they filed a false case against us.”

Police Sub-inspector Manjurul Alam confirmed that the Muslim neighbors had filed a case against Rahman’s family, and that Rahman had also filed an assault case against the attackers.

“We are investigating it,” he said.

Begum said local Muslims threatened to beat the Christians again if they filed a case against them.

“They threatened that if we file a case, they will carry out an arson attack, and our house will be burnt to the ground,” she said. “They will evict us from the locality. They will beat us again and our life will be in great trouble.”

The family informed local governing council members about the attack, but they demanded 20,000 taka (US$300) to settle the matter and also threatened them, she said.

“The local council officials also told us that if we file any case in the police station, our houses will be burnt to ashes and we will be evicted from the locality,” she said. “The Muslim neighbors are spreading rumors that we beat them, that we borrowed 22,000 taka from them and that we did not pay them back the money. But we do not have anyone to stand beside us and listen to us.”

 

Belligerent Attitude

Because the family members are converts from Islam, they said, neighbors and distant relatives often pick quarrels with them over any small issue, with villagers later joining in to threaten or attack them.

“If we go to the market or any public places, Muslim people push us roughly from behind and use filthy words against us about Christianity,” said the oldest son, Salim Rahman.

The entire family is living in isolation due to their conversion, which the female members said is especially difficult for them.

“Whenever I go outside, local people look at me with evil leers,” said the oldest daughter, Rosy Rahman. “Everyone bad-mouths me and casts aspersions on our faith.”

She said such harassment forced her to stop going to school in 2004.

“If I had not stopped going to school, my life would have been in trouble,” she said. “I feel insecure and mixed-up, because local people always want to deflower me. If anything bad happens to me, no one in the society will stand beside me. What did we do against the society? We did nothing against them, we simply changed our faith.”

She said the ostracism and societal misconduct sometimes lead her to contemplate suicide.

 

History of Resentment

When the family and others converted to Christianity in 1991, area resentment festered and finally broke into violence in late 1992, when local Muslims vandalized and burned the local church and several Christian-owned homes.

The government deployed more than 2,000 police and other law enforcement personnel to bring the situation under control, and some local Muslims were arrested for arson.

“The arrests made the local Muslims very angry,” said pastor Benu Barua of Memorial Christian Baptist Church of Malumghat.

Rage dating back to the events of the 1990s may be at the root of the beating of Begum’s family, he said.

“The Muslim neighbors beat them for such a small amount of money – any small issue to the Muslim neighbors is like a red rag to a bull,” Barua said. “This kind of oppression, what happened to Begum’s family, is less common on other traditional Christians or those who converted from the Hindu religion. But Muslim-converted Christians are more oppressed here.”  

Report from Compass Direct News