Sexual abuse victim turned into perpetrator at Indongo Toyota
By Confidente Reporter
A 28 year-old woman who reported her boss, Indongo Toyota’s dealer principal – Hans Steinkopf – for sexual harassment after he allegedly barged into a toilet while she was half-naked, has been accused of inviting the unusual behavior.
The victim reported the incident to the male-dominated Frans Indongo Group board but the latter directed the matter to be handled internally by human resources (HR).
To make matters worse, the victim has since been notified of an impending retrenchment that will affect her and 10 others.
Ironically, the HR department reports to Steinkopf causing the victim to wonder how she will get justice in a work environment where HR is a subordinate to the accused.
Steinkopf (67) allegedly walked into the male staff toilet the victim was using to attend to her menses. While she sat on the toilet pot he allegedly told her; “Listen! This is my toilet,” and walked out. The incident happened in the morning hours of March 2.
Confidente spoke at length with the victim, a switchboard controller, whose identity this publication will withhold for ethical reasons.
“On that day, I rushed into the male toilet because it was vacant. I did not lock the door. Mr. Steinkopf knocked twice and on both occasions I alerted him of my presence. Nonetheless, he walked in. I was seated on the toilet pot. He kept staring at me, made his point and walked out.”
She noted that while it became clear Steinkopf – whose position is equivalent to that of CEO – had crossed the line, she had a hard time accessing support from the company and its board and was unsure of what steps to take next. This comes after she reported the incident to her immediate supervisors (both women), who instead of listening to her and offering counselling, allegedly defended Steinkopf.
“I’m in a state of shock. To think he (Steinkopf) would do that and just kept going and pretend that nothing happened. It wasn’t funny. It was something I wanted addressed with the urgency it deserved. I didn’t get any form of support because the perpetrator is in a position of power,” the victim said.
Desperate, she reached out to the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (MANWU), a week after the company failed to act. The union sprung to her defence, which saw the board direct that the matter be dealt with internally.
In a March 9 letter addressed to Frans Indongo Group board chairperson, Silvanus Kathindi, MANWU secretary general Justina Jonas-Emvula noted that Steinkopf walked into the restroom at a time the victim was attending to her personal matters. She described the behaviour as disgusting and shocking, urging the board to act.
“He was standing in front of a half-naked woman, who was busy addressing her menstruation needs. He left without showing remorse. The conduct of Mr. Hans violated (the victim’s) rights to privacy and the conduct is tantamount to sexual harassment.”
The union strongly believes that the victim’s retrenchment notice is the company’s way of silencing her, in the hope that the complaint disappears. It also accused the board of favouring Steinkopf and of having double standards when it recently charged and dismissed a black dealer principal accused of sexual harassment by a female employee at the company’s Ongwediva branch.
“Since March on the date of the incident, the victim was and is still subjected to facing a man who sexually harassed her. As a young woman she continues to be traumatised and the company’s system that protected Mr. Hans continues to psychologically harm her.”
Subsequently, the company arranged for a grievance mediation on May 11, in which the mediator apportioned blame on both parties.
In her findings, the mediator concluded that; “Mr. Steinkopf is not guilty of invasion of her privacy. In my opinion the incident was not deliberate and was not to humiliate or traumatise the aggrieved employee. It was purely an accident.
“The aggrieved party as a female made use of a male restroom and did not lock the door. The aggrieved party should have locked the door if her privacy is so important to her. The aggrieved party could have also apologised to the responding party since she is the one in the male toilet and did not lock the door (sic).”
On Steinkopf’s part, the mediator found that; “The responding party should have knocked before entering and should not have uttered this is my restroom. He could have properly apologised and waited outside since he is not aware of the circumstances and the reason of the aggrieved party being in the male’s restroom. The responding party could have addressed the aggrieved party privately and apologised for entering the male restroom without permission.”
The victim said that Steinkopf eventually offered an apology that was not sincere.
“He asked why I felt my privacy was invaded when I left the door unlocked. He also said it was not his prerogative to apologise after I refused to accept his apology that was not sincere. The mediator also said I was being hard-headed for not accepting the apology and suggested I go for counselling at my own cost. I didn’t get justice. We continue to use the toilet, so it makes me wonder whether the incident will happen again.”
Kathindi this week said that the aggrieved employee did not lodge a sexual harassment complaint, but that of invasion of privacy.
“The aggrieved employee had entered a clearly marked single male toilet and she did not lock the door. The accused unknowingly entered the marked male toilet and found the aggrieved person inside. He then remarked that ‘it is his restroom’ and continued to shut the door.
“Unfortunately, the grievance was not resolved, but due to the finding that the incident had not been deliberate or intentional, there is simply no justification for any charges against Mr. Steinkopf.”
Kathindi thus denied that the board did not protect the victim. “The incident was not of a sexual nature, nor did it amount to harassment.
“The employee did not request any form of protection against Mr. Steinkopf, or for their contact to be limited. The reason for this is obvious, it is because this was not a sexual harassment incident. Had she done so, her employer would have given her request its due consideration.”
Kathindi also denied allegations the victim is being retrenched to silence her. “These matters are not related and we deny any allegation that she is being earmarked for retrenchment in order to silence her. As you know the motor vehicle industry is under financial pressure at this time and her employer is engaging her as well as some of her colleagues in a lawful process.”
At least 60 employees on Monday this week staged a demonstration in front of the company’s Ausspanplatz branch in Windhoek against discrimination and sexual harassment. They also called for the immediate suspension of Steinkopf.
In their petition, the workers questioned whether the board favored white employees over blacks owing to how the two cases of sexual harassment were dealt with.
The workers told Confidente that although the company prides itself for having a robust policy on sexual harassment in place, as well as a culture that does not tolerate harassment, this is far from reality.
Steinkopf declined to entertain questions by Confidente when approached for comment on Tuesday. “At this point in time I am not allowed to comment as the matter is being handled by the board.”