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The Hero’s Curse

Why we must undraw the drapes that house the invisible moral warriors

By Khushvita Singh

Image by Victoria Loveland from Pixabay

Lisbeth is the spirit representing all the quiet and gentle souls, stumbling along the pin-pitted path to obtain moral justice after being subject to inhumane happenstances. She lurks in the shadows. Lisbeth exists in all shapes and forms and is an emblem for the journey for stopping immoral phenomena.

Is a Lisbeth buried under the rubble of sickly-sweet lies of academic opportunity and blissful freedom or have we let her down by ignoring her pleas for help?

However, some brave souls chose to end the sustained suffering of victims by sacrificing themselves and saving shattered innocent lives. Unfortunately, these fearless souls did not know that doing their moral duty also had a complementary curse.

Sadly, there is a Lisbeth hidden everywhere. More than 2 out of 3 sexual harassment and misconduct felonies go unreported and unheard. Victims shunned. It’s time all the Lisbeths around the world are empowered to befall the tall sturdy trees of shocking crimes and injustices. Let’s catch a glimpse of the boldness of recent whistle blowers and the curse that has followed them.

Steve O’Brien, fired from his position as deputy athletic director in 2020, exposed the trainer who sexually harassed 23 female athletes at the San Jose State University. Last month the University agreed to overhaul its prestigious Title IX and compensate $1.6 million to the victims in response to the sexual harassment complaints. Federal investigators of the case reprimanded San Jose State University for allowing the offender to continue to work with female athletes despite being aware of his misdemeanour and offenses.

Even though the university apologised in their statement, the suffering of all involved will only now surface. Coming from their venom wrapped apology is the reality that the university had not only failed to take appropriate action but also strategically botched its own investigation into the trainer’s behaviour, prolonging his annihilation of innocent lives. Instead of retaliating against the trainer it retaliated against its employees and students and kept them shut.

O'Brien courageously exposed the trainer, whose misdemeanour was being ignored for more than a decade. When other university staff tried to expose the trainer, they were excruciatingly spurned. After the scandal hit the limelight, many more students came forward and told their part in the dismal tale in the university’s sport landscape.

O’Brien was not the only one to have been terminated for doing right but others also doing their moral duty face dire consequences: a former college dean lost her job after expressing concerns that the Minnesota-based Globe University was misling students into extending the length of their degrees. Some struggled to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in loans. Her supervisors had refused to listen to her and when she went straight to the President, she was fired.

Weber, now a healthcare assistant, was teaching students to save lives but it seems like many lives were destroyed instead. Including hers.

Regrettably, these cases continue to occur across the globe. In India, a six-year struggle for IIT Kharagpur scholar Mahesh Shirole ended recently when he was awarded a PhD degree after repeated rejections of his doctorate thesis since January 2015. Kumar, Shirole’s supervisor who had been fighting for justice for his student, had claimed that the denial was the result of the institution's "vindictive attitude" towards him. "IIT Kharagpur's denial of PhD to the student is an extension of its vindictive attitude against me. IIT Kharagpur has been vindictive to me, as I disclosed arbitrariness and irregularities in IITs admissions in 2006 onwards and contributed significantly in reforming IITs admissions and academic processes," he had said in his multiple appeals to authorities.

IIT Kharagpur had in May 2011 suspended Kumar on charges of misconduct. He was accused of damaging its reputation by levelling allegations of irregularities in admissions, purchase of laptops and rampant copying by students in exams.

Shirole suffered unfairly due to his supervisor.

It seems that universities are highly concerned about their reputation and not about their students’ futures which they are toiling with.

Many have come forward as martyrs for standing up for students and the betterment of their future, yet universities may be sheltering the lurking offenders for all the wrong reasons.

The BBC recently reported that UK universities are being accused of using "gagging orders" to stop bullying, discrimination and sexual misconduct allegations becoming public. Figures obtained by the BBC show UK universities spent about £87m on pay-offs with NDAs since 2017. Dozens of academics have told BBC News they were "harassed" out of their jobs and forced to sign non-disclosure agreements after making complaints.

Non-disclosure agreements were designed to stop staff sharing trade secrets if they changed jobs, but now lawyers say they are being misused to protect serial perpetrators of misconduct, and ministers say they want to tighten the rules.

Emma Chapman, an award-winning astrophysicist, says she was sexually harassed by a man at University College London and received a £70,000 pay out after a two-year legal challenge. She refused to sign an NDA in favour of a confidentiality waiver, believed to be the first of its kind, allowing her to defend herself.

But Dr Chapman says the "trauma of the original incident is still there" with "nightmares of [her] house being set on fire".

The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests to 136 UK universities, asking how much they had paid in settlements that included "gagging clauses". The analysis of figures from 96 universities responding in full, reveal about £87m spent on about 4,000 settlements in the past two years. Many universities said they were unable to disclose why the agreements were signed, so it is unclear how many relate to allegations of bullying, harassment, or sexual misconduct.

The extent of “gagging clauses” is a critical conundrum requiring a through and careful investigation, but the obscure nature of the dilemma lends itself to a host of complexities. For the safety and wellbeing of staff members and students, it is essential that more falls under light.

Students are not the only vulnerable affected. NHS whistle-blowers have required counselling and medication and a quarter would not raise concerns again due to the stress and lack of support, a report found. Dr Christine Peters said she had suffered post-traumatic stress after failed attempts to raise the alarm about problems at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

It is highly disappointing that those doing their moral duty while protecting victims are ostracised. If whistle-blowers did not speak up things would have never changed. There courage is admirable and must be instilled in us too, to fight injustice and crime in all shapes and forms.

Institutions have a larger role to play in the scenes of integrity and rightful justice. We must stain the crime and the criminal not the victim and the whistle-blower. Our heroes should be painted with the colours of honour and pride without being maligned for their bold actions.

No victim shall have to remain quiet: no Lisbeth shall go unheard and linger invisible in the calamitous visits of preposterous happenings.


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