Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin has received an apology from the president of UCD, after she admitted that she had been “repeatedly harassed” by a colleague over the course of two years.
The broadcaster started working in UCD in late 2014 on a temporary assignment, before she was contracted as an assistant lecturer after she completed her PhD.
Aoibhinn told The Irish Times that her colleague Prof Hans-Benjamin Braun began harassing her in 2015, and it continued for two years before she decided to officially report the harassment to the Gardaí.
After opening up about her experience, Aoibhinn has since received an apology from UCD president Professor Andrew Deeks – who said in a statement: “I am greatly saddened that one of our colleagues experienced such traumatic events over an extended period, and I apologise to Aoibhinn on behalf of UCD.”
“I also apologise to other colleagues and students who have suffered such experiences while in our care.
“Bullying, harassment, sexual harassment or sexual misconduct have no place in UCD, and we are already working to strengthen our current policies with a number of measures.
“We are proposing a core procedural shift in how such matters are dealt with, which is to establish the option for the university to instigate an investigation in the absence of a formal complaint (currently the university can only investigate where there is a formal complaint).”
“Other measures include a new concept of disclosure with respect to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct and clarifying the relationship between informal and formal internal complaints and complaints to the Garda Síochána,” he concluded the statement.
Taking to Twitter, Aoibhinn wrote: “I’m very surprised to be reading about an apology from UCD President Andrew Deeks, since I haven’t received one or any communication from him on this matter.”
She then wrote: “For the record, I have since received a written apology and will be speaking with President Deeks during the week.”
Over the course of two years, Aoibhinn reported multiple inappropriate incidents involving the professor to UCD’s HR department, but the harassment continued.
For the record, I have since received a written apology and will be speaking with President Deeks during the week.
— Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin (@aoibhinn_ni_s) September 6, 2020
The incidents included Mr Braun repeatedly asking her out on dates, interrupting her meetings, turning up at her office in an agitated state, persistently calling her mobile phone, and sending her unsolicited emails.
A particularly scary incident in May 2015 involved Braun showing up at a hotel in Cork demanding to see Aoibhinn, while she was on a weekend away with friends.
The professor had to be removed from the hotel twice by Gardaí, before Aoibhinn and her friends received a Garda escort out of the county.
Once again, Aoibhinn reported the incident to HR, who advised her to work from home for a few days.
1.Sexual harassment in academia is a serious and systemic issue that is too often left unchecked. I spoke with @IrishTimes about my experience of sexual harassment by a colleague @ucddublin
— Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin (@aoibhinn_ni_s) September 5, 2020
After many more incidents involving Mr Braun, Aoibhinn was told by university staff that the professor had been told not to contact her – but the harassment continued.
Around July 2016, Braun had received a written warning from a senior university faculty member, and Aoibhinn said: “Nothing happened then for a couple of months, so maybe the warning did work at some point.”
But in January 2017, Braun approached her again while she was meeting a colleague for coffee on campus, and Aoibhinn told him to “go away”.
“It sounds very innocuous, but I guess after all of the repeated incidents you just get very nerve-racked,” she told the Irish Times.
In May 2017, Aoibhinn decided “this has to stop” after she locked herself into her office when he arrived at her door.
She said: “I was really just getting afraid with all of it, because even if something didn’t happen, you were always on edge wondering if it would happen, wondering when he would next turn up at a meeting, or at your office.”
“The mental energy that it took, I really felt that it impacted on me personally, but on my professional work as well because you just couldn’t concentrate properly for all that time.”
After making another complaint to HR, Aoibhinn said someone in the department advised her to go to the Garda.
She explained: “I was getting married at this point. I was really, really, really afraid that he would turn up on my wedding day. I got a few more phone calls from him, in July of that year, July 2017, in the run-up to my wedding – one I answered because I didn’t recognise the number… I blocked all the numbers after that, made a statement to the guards.”
Following a Garda investigation, Mr Braun was brought to court in late 2019, and the 58-year-old was charged with harassment under section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997.
The court heard the harassment took place between May 9th, 2015, and July 7th, 2017, and issued an order barring the professor from contacting Aoibhinn for five years.
Aoibhinn also made a formal complaint to UCD about the harassment in August 2018, and while she was on maternity leave the following year, she received an email from UCD confirming Braun was leaving the university.
When asked to comment on Aoibhinn’s story, UCD’s director of human resources Tristan Aitken said “UCD had a zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.”
He also confirmed the university’s dignity and respect policy and procedure is “currently under review” and said UCD “takes serious note of the outcomes of these cases to improve the university’s policy and procedure”.
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On this week’s episode of #GossChats @itsalirose chats to @the2johnnies ahead of their highly anticipated debut RTE series ‘The 2 Johnnies Do America’. From wanting to duet wth @paul.mescal to how they stay so grounded, the lads open up about their careers to date. #GossChats is sponsored by @haus_of_jejuve