Is it sexual harrasment when it is the student propositioning?

The Herald reports:

A University of Auckland student who propositioned her lecturer has been suspended after being found guilty of sexual harassment.

But the 30-year-old physics student at the centre of the row says the reaction to her behaviour is over the top and now her second degree is under threat.

The woman told the Herald on Sunday she simply sent her lecturer an email asking: “Would you like to have sex in Bali?”

Her advances were not welcome, and she was suspended until the end of the year for not complying with the disciplinary process triggered by the teacher’s sexual harassment complaint.

On March 6, two weeks into her physics course, the woman sent her lecturer a risque email saying: “It’s rather forward of me but I wondered if you and your wife are the open experimental type?

“I met an interesting person I respected of this lifestyle she had several honest concurrent relationships of varying degrees of intimacy and a couple who are my close friends have shared with me they invite a third person in for a short time when it feels right.

“Bali Indonesia rendevous [sic] in July if you are interested I’ve made a booking for a week here before I go diving in the komodo islands 🙂 I’d like to spend the week getting to know you intimately.”

The email added: “I’ve had such an instant sexual interesting response for someone I don’t know well. I hope it’s mutual, but I’ll be fine if it’s just my overactive imagination too, distracting me pleasurably from math, so please continue relaxed and happy!”

She told her lecturer that if her attention was unwanted he should ignore her message. “No need to compute a rejection letter! And I would never expect you to be unfair, I’m happy to wait until after the exam.”

Soon after receiving the email, the lecturer forwarded it to his boss. An investigation was launched and the student was found guilty of sexual harassment by the university proctor.

An interesting case. If the approach was from the lecturer to the student, then it would be quite wrong.

The approach was unwise, shall we say. Probably best to use a more subtle approach to ascertain if the attraction is mutual, rather than an e-mail out of the blue inviting them to Bali for a sex holiday.

But nevertheless, is a one off approach by e-mail sexual harassment?

I would have though suspension of the student was over the top. Possibly requiring her not to contact the particular lecturer or attend his classes would be in order, but a suspension seems too punitive.

The student said she considered her offer to be direct, but did not expect it to trigger a sexual harassment complaint.

“Basically I sent that very forward – but still polite – email: Would you like to have sex in Bali?” she said.

“I thought that I tidied it up at the end and said if you don’t want to, no pressure, no coercion, nothing. Just be happy and go on your way. The next thing I know I was inundated with sexual harassment policy and basically I was suspended.”

I wonder how common is it for students to proposition lecturers?

UPDATE: Subsequent reports have had the University saying that the student has propositioned multiple (two) staff and after being told not to e-mail them on non-learning issues, continued to do so. If the University is correct, then her behaviour would warrant disciplinary action.

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