When the Harasser is Your Own Boss

A scholarship holder accuses a top academic at the University of Guanajuato of sexual harassment during a business trip; her case is among only 30% of the victims that file a formal report
When the Harasser is Your Own Boss
Isabel Puente camino a la Universidad de Guanajuato, donde presuntamente un académico la acosó sexualmente
Foto: Gardenia Mendoza. / Impremedia.

GUANAJUATO.- For several months, Maria Isabel Puente could not stand the smell of wine that reminded her of the night of August 7, 2015 when her boss sexually harassed her, as she told La Opinion. Before dropping his pants she says, “he licked” her cheeks, neck and ears by force with that fetid stench, half fermented grape and half saliva.

Maria Isabel shudders, winces of disgust and looks with urgently a glass of orange juice in front of the Plaza de Armas where she recounts her version of the events, a few steps from the headquarters of the University of Guanajuato, where she was an intern and where the alleged harasser still works: the coordinator of the Interinstitutional Law Doctorate, Julio Cesar Kala

Second part of a special series: Sexual harassment: When they counterattack

It is not anything to put the “doctor” publicly on the dock”, as she calls him. He is a powerful man in the academic, political and social world of the region, a fellow project of the current dean of the institution, Luis Felipe Guerrero, who, in turn, is a friend of former Governor Otto Granados and many others who rule.

But the 26 year-old young woman is determined. She tells that, Guerrero even testified an assumption proceeding of a verbal sexual harassment of Kala towards her but, at that moment, he downplayed because he thought it was a drunkard’s bluff

“It was during a business trip to Chile. In an academic event they took us to a very pretty place to eat. My boss had drunk too much and, in front of all the guests he made a comment that made me feel uncomfortable: he said that if I got distracted, ‘he would climb on me.’. I was very surprised and I better remained silenced; the next day, everything was normal.”

Kala does not want to speak with this media about the accusations after he briefly answers by phone. He only says “he already told his version to the Human Rights Commission”, but he does not know that there was a lawsuit. Anyway, he says, “I am only going to declare before official institutions (not before the press).”

The day after

The morning of August 8, Maria Isabel opened the water tap of the bathtub and submerged herself in the water with indifference to reflect about she remembered from the night before, after attending a dinner for the closing of the interinstitutional doctorate at the Independent University of Aguascalientes, when she returned to the hotel with her boss.

The group during a trip to Chile. From right to left: Maria Isabel Puente and Julio Cesar Chávez with the dean of the Universidad de Guanajuato, Luis Felipe Guerrero.

With a degree in law, her work as Kala’s assistant was to coordinate the logistics of the tours for the development of the doctorate and, often, when the Doctor did not attend classes, she also worked as a substitute, but that night he requested more from her

– Can we go to your room for a while? I want to ask you some things about my daughters.

Her boss’s daughters were her friends, so close that she has sometimes spent the night at their home. “It did not seem very strange to me that he wanted to speak with me, as a father, and for that reason I accepted that we go to the room that it has a small living room with small tables and chairs where we could talk.”

During the first minutes, the conversation focused in the girls, but “at what moment he turned in another thing?” Maria Isabel wonders now. “Perhaps when he got confident and opened the bottle of wine bottle that was there.”

– You need somebody who can make love to you very well”, he said. And I am the one.
– Don’t tell me that, doctor, she said while going towards the door to invite him to leave, but he stopped her.
– I leave if you kiss me.

That was the beginning of a chasing throughout the room; until Kala cornered her, embraced Maria Isabel’s back, tightened her breast, and drops his trousers to exhibit his underpants with little figures of Mickey Mouse. “I am not going to penetrate you,” he insisted once and again. “Just kiss me.”

In the struggle, the glass of the table broke and the noise caught the hotel guards’ attention who phoned immediately. Kala let her loosen and ran away.

The phone ringing pulled Maria Isabel out of her memoirs in the bathtub. Miss Gutierrez?. They wait for you at the reception: you must return to the University of Guanajuato

Blind Justice?

The National Institute for the Woman (Inmujeres) documented in 2014 that seven out of 10 Mexican workers suffer of sexual harassment at work, well-knownas “mobbing”, mainly of sexual type; yet, only 30% of the victims make a formal report before the corresponding authorities and only 1% finish in sentences.

“The sentences are very low. Some years ago they were 40 days of minimum wage fine (around 350 dollars) and evidently, the punishment was not enough”, says Gerardo Palomar, analyst of the Technological Institute and Superior Studies of Monterrey.

“Now we have from six months to two years of prison plus a fine but, when laws are not enforced, the prison threat does not frighten them enough to prevent the crime to be committed”.

Maria Isabel was about to swell the numbers of non-complainers. She says that, before resigning and taking the case to the State Commission of Human Rights and to the Attorney General of the State of Aguascalientes, where the event happened, she requested a change of work area, far from him.

“It was denied by eight people from various areas, including my aunt (whose name she does not mention for family matters, but she is the private secretary of the president) because they were campaigning for the rectory and a scandal could affect his promotion.”

The university authorities’ version is even shorter. In response to the request of La Opinion, the spokesman Eduardo Lopez, who agreed to answer by email-only said that the “matter is being handled by the Commission of Honor and Justice” that “Miss [Gutierrez] and the professor already submitted written evidence” that they are defining “the terms of their settlement.”

Lopez also said that Maria Isabel was not transfer to another work area because she was not an official worker at the University of Guanajuato (although she had to fulfill an eight-hour day).

“The young lady enjoyed a scholarship as a student of Mandarin Chinese class, which granted her financial support by the UG and she, in turn, performed support tasks in a Master’s Program Coordination Office.”

In an official press notice the dean office acknowledged previously that there is not a performance protocol so that the possible victims of sexual harassment in the institution complain and so it can be taken care of.

This lack gives cause for all sorts of situations. Maria Isabel says that ‘The Doctor’ tried to bribe her with a blank check that she now saves as evidence against him, along with chat in the Whats App application where his former boss offers to bring her back, apologizes and says that “he is not a monster.”

Maria Isabel pauses to show the conversation. She sips again. She goes from the juice to the coffee and looks sideways the church to remember the day that was walking around and came face to face with Kala and his wife.

“The square was empty and they looked at me with hatred because she had already introduced the lawsuit to human rights. It was so intimidating that I do not think of anything else rather than to get to the temple. I am not a religious person but I began to mourn in a corner while everyone else was reciting the Lord’s Prayer,” she says.