Male teachers, main sexual aggressors in Mexico City’s universities

The lack of protocols, adequate norms, and re-victimization are some of the obstacles that victims of sexual aggressions face in universities when looking for justice

Male teachers, main sexual aggressors in Mexico City’s universities
Hands of protestors against sexual aggressors with the names of the movements Me Too and Time’s Up written on their palms – Photo: Drew Angerer/EL UNIVERSAL
English 06/07/2019 16:25 Montserrat Peralta, Berenice Santos y Paola Odiardi Mexico City Actualizada 16:25
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“Why are you so covered? Uncover” was one of the comments Karen used to receive from Orlando, her thesis adviser. This added to his insistence in kissing her twice or more when greeting her. She felt uncomfortable but tried not to care about it. In the end, he was a prominent scholar; she had chosen him as her tutor for four years, and she must have felt “privileged” for studying a Ph.D. in one of the most revered institutions: the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

By the end of the third semester, Orlando gave her a specific activity: making a reservation for him in a hotel for an event both of them were attending in Europe. The request became perturbing. “We should stay there, right?,” was the phrase that Karen heard. She refused, but he insisted, this time in a more overwhelming way: “What’s wrong with it? If you want, you can be under, as you like; we can be like that in bed for seven days,” the young woman remembers. She froze, while he mocked her for being so surprised.

Days later another threat came: “Since you didn’t do what I asked you, something serious is going to happen to your evaluation;” this gave Karen the courage to report him with the coordinator.

But the greatest surprise was when she noticed that the school authorities ignored her report. Her case was one of the 41 that happened during 2015 in the institution.

EL UNIVERSAL analyzed 581 complaints for rape, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and sexual assault that happened within the five public universities with more students in Mexico City: the UNAM, the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN), the National Pedagogic University (UPN), the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), and the Autonomous University of Mexico City (UACM). All of them registered cases, to a greater or lesser extent.

The Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) and the Autonomous University of Chapingo did not deliver any information, in spite of a reviewing resource that the National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI) determined in favor of this publishing house.

Every year from 2012 to 2018, on average, there are 83 complaints about any of these aggressions. They all present the same gaps: lack of follow-through, lax sanctions, re-victimization, and even the silence of the universities for the sake of keeping their prestige, specialists affirm.

In 6 out of 10 complaints, that is 352, the aggression comes from a member of the educational institution, mainly male teachers. In the more than 300 registers, they lead the list with 222 complaints in that period.

57% of complaints against scholars were for sexual harassment. In total, there are 126 complains about this behavior. Even though there has been an increase in the general complaints since 2014, it was until just 3 years ago that universities created their own protocols to counteract these aggressions.

In 2016, the UNAM, the CIDE, and the IPN published their regulations. This means that both have “a document that contains a series of accepted and approved norms, strategies and proceedings that state the steps to follow and the entities in charge of receiving, channeling, investigating and punishing or absolving accusations about behaviours that constitute sexual harassment or sexual abuse,” according to a research published by Different Latitudes (Distintas Latitudes) and the LATAM Network of Young Journalists (Red LATAM de Jóvenes Periodistas).

Awkward Questions

Since Karen started working with Orlando, she had to endure comments that looked like insinuations: “I comply with giving you furniture from the UNAM, what do you give in exchange?” he asked her. The student answered: “I give work.” Although she felt that his words had a background, a part of her refused to believe it. “You never think bad of your teachers,” she affirms.

When Orlando threatened her, Karen looked for the help of the school authorities. No one cared. The University did nothing about it. Her case happened one year before the creation of the Protocol to Deal with Sexual Violence in 2016; and in 2017, the complaints started to pour out.

From 2012 to 2016, the complaints in the highest house of studies in Mexico for sexual abuse, sexual harassment and rape added to 192 registers. The year with more complaints was 2014: 79 female students presented a complaint. But only from 2017 to 2018 the amount increased to 325 allegations, according to the information obtained through transparency by EL UNIVERSAL.

In the case of the IPN, there is a register of 45 complaints from 2012 to November 2018. The UACM, the UPN, and the CIDE amount to the 19 remaining cases in the same period. In all of them, the offense that prevails is sexual harassment.

The number of cases soars

The illegal act was one of the ones that soared in the UNAM. From 2012 to 2016 there were 36 complaints, and in 2017 and 2018 107 were reported; the number tripled. This increase came with the publication of the protocol since there are now instances that deal with these complaints and give psychological and legal support, says Alba Luz Robles Mendoza, researcher of gender-based violence in college students.

But one of the problems the college community faces is that both the University Court and the Ethics Commission judge without gender perspective; in addition to faculty principals not imparting justice in the cases, affirms Magali Barreto Ávila, former advisor of the National Institute for Women.

These walls were the same that blocked Karen. After noticing that her coordinator would only file her complaint, she sent a letter to the Academic Committee asking for a change of tutor. There came the next obstacle, for the female official herself scolded her: "Did you send that letter? Withdraw. Say you were wrong, that you’re nervous,” the former pupil tells. Out of pressure, Karen decided to keep quiet.

When the moment of her semi-annual evaluation came, Orlando carried out his threat: “I think that you’re wrong from the first semester, so I’m going to evaluate your three previous semesters,” he said to Karen, who had passed with good grades. Orlando graded her again and they all were failing grades. Karen went to a third instance, the Unity for Attention and Follow-through of Complaints (Unad) of the UNAM, but she did not find help either.

Weeks after she was expelled from the doctorate. She has now a debt with the National Council for Science and Technology for not finishing her postgraduate studies of excellence she studied and for which she was granted a scholarship.

A former advisor of that institution, who asked to leave her name out, accompanied several complainers of sexual aggressions and witnessed that one of the biggest problems with the 2016 protocol is that, if the deeds were more than one year old, the case did not proceed and only the antecedent was left.

In the new version of the document for 2019, this description was eliminated, but one of the requirements for the complaint to be valid is that the involved person must be part of the house of studies. Also, now the urgent measures for protections are to be provided before the presentation of the complaint or during the investigation.

Hundreds of college students had to wait for the creation of these protocols or for the explosion of movements like #MeToo to be able to report their cases. “The fact that the victims have a higher level of studies does not guarantee that they have the tools to defend themselves from any type of sexual violence,” Robles affirms.

*The names were modified for the safety of the victim.


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