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Conference sex

Oratile is your average 25-year-old — ambitious, with big dreams and hopes. Due to the nature of her work she attends many conferences, imbizos, indabas and such gatherings. She is painfully aware that for many, these gatherings mean “sexual fun”. She has often had to deal with suggestive remarks and people attempting to kiss her. She developed a strategy to handle these unwanted attentions — leaving just before the day’s proceedings end to avoid any run-ins with participants. She also generally does not socialise at these events, preferring to stay closed up in her room, away from everyone.

She was sent to yet another conference last month. Upon arriving she found that many of the delegates had not yet arrived and would not becoming. She was the only woman among a group of men, all older than her. The usual suggestive remarks were made which evolved into jokes about who would be sharing a room with her that night.

A man, who held a senior position at the organisation which had arranged the conference, entered the room. It was clear that many of the males present felt somewhat intimidated by his presence. He sat close to Oratile and after bemoaning the poor preparations made for the conference went on to boast about his power and connections. He went as far as saying he had ministers’ cellphone numbers and looked at her as if she was supposed to be impressed. He went on and the silence of the men made it seem as if the matter of who would be sharing Oratile’s room was settled.

A clearly uncomfortable Oratile decided to leave the conference venue lest she shoot off her mouth at the men. But as she walked away, the man holding the senior position grabbed her arm and asked where she was going. Her top shifted slightly revealing a bit of the tattoo on her back. The man attempted to look into her top, asking if he could see her tattoo and she moved away, giving him a piece of her mind while doing so. The other men watched this exchange, which had now become very awkward. He pulled her again and she graciously crushed his toes before walking away. As she left she caught him say something about “playing hard to get” to the rest of the men.

When she got to her room Oratile thought about how she would be expected to give a presentation to these people knowing that none of them would be listening to what she was saying. It was clear that their main concern was who would be sharing her room and nothing else. As she sat there she remembered the many other exchanges she’d had at conferences — all “powerful” men who offered her a “real job” and a host of other things for sexual pleasure.

Eventually more delegates arrived although less than half of what had been expected. The conference got under way. Oratile’s admirer had taken her number from the register and kept sending her SMSs throughout. He seemed to be lurking in every corner. The man kept giving her “special attention” almost as if to suggest to everyone there that they were “together”. The SMSs became phone calls. He even entered her room while she was in the bathroom — having foolishly forgotten to lock the door. Unfortunately leaving was not an option. Not only was she far from home, in a town she did not know, but also had no transport. The area was secluded with no public transport.

Oratile considers herself an empowered woman. She is assertive, knows her rights and stands up for them. I should know this because I am Oratile and this was my experience. Judging from the responses to my tweets about the matter, there are many other Oratiles out there and even more people who know of them.

“Why didn’t you report it?” From experience, reporting is not as easy as it’s made out to be. Who do you report it to when he is “the man” or the “big boss” as I heard him being referred to? Even those who witness these exchanges remain silent, fearing marginalisation — be it professional or otherwise. Considering the position he holds my allegations would be rubbished off as he is a “happily married man who would never do that”.

No matter how empowered we are, we still work with and marry men who don’t respect a woman’s no. We still live in a world with men who believe they’re entitled to a quick f**k and use their work status to get it, no matter how forcefully.

Men and women need to speak out against this sort of behaviour, to smash the patriarchy and misogyny so entrenched in our society. Men need to know that violating our rights and bodies does not only do us great harm but also demeans masculinity as a whole.


  • Mother. Campaigner. Political orphan. Blogger. Part Time Professional Black. Liker of Things. Lover of People. No Sense of Humour. Also on twitter @Kmoeti


  1. Gareth Setati Gareth Setati 16 November 2012

    This is a disheartening story, well written and with a bit of a shocking twist at the end. However, I think you need to take greater care not lump “all powerful men” with this sort of thing. I ultimately understand the issues you raise, however your tone gives the impression that you are lumping all men in this sort of behavior, and this is the unfair part.

    However, the issues women face in the workplace (or otherwise) are more unfair than the blanket statements you may be making. For example, women do not benefit from the gentlemen’s clubs at work – they are hardly invited for golf sessions, and if they are it may end up, as you point out, as a sexual overture of some kind. So yes, “men and women need to speak out against this sort of behaviour to smash the patriarchy and misogyny so entrenched in our society.”

  2. Busi Busi 16 November 2012

    This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest… Black South African men are so predatory it’s sickening. Not all of them, obviously, but an alarming majority nonetheless. They seem to think they’re entitled to young women’s bodies and the ones who say and do nothing to protect these obviously vulnerable women are just as bad..

  3. Masixole Ntunguntwana Masixole Ntunguntwana 16 November 2012

    This story of Oratile, is something that is not new it happens everywhere but the question is that why is this happening? I know this as the person who attended most conferences. I can say this is is the nature of conferences because every man want to share a room with a lady from other region/province and or the beautiful lady from his own area. For an example on July this year I attended a conference of the SACP in Kwa Zulu Natal @UNIZUL (University of Kwa Zulu Natal) and we met different people from all over South Africa. Myself and my friend we are the hope of the region/district in terms of seeking females to share the rooms with us.

    Whatever you do in the conference will be exposed no matter who are you and what position do you hold at that particular organization, even if you are a president or whatsoever. But what I like about sharing a room with a lady is don’t you won’t be bored but you will be money spender. Money spender should have a lot of fun with his lady (deligate) if she is a deligate. As we all know that ladies do not want to feel lonely in the conference they want to be with some male deligates. But at this case of Oratile the guys must not take advantage, and they must not attend conference with that understanding of sharing a room with a lady. That must be a lucky not a principle or a culture.

    To me that will make the conference to be something else because mr so and so slept with certain lady lat night and I want that lady too.

  4. jamy jamy 16 November 2012

    It will carry on being tolerated until you, as a victim, stand up against it. ‘Big Boss-‘ what nonsense, he is a bully and needs to be dealt with accordingly. He is obviously of inferior intelligence if his thinking dictates that his advances are appropriate.

    If you act as if you are an unequal, you will be. As a young pretty female, I am harassed on a daily basis. I always let the harassers know my mind, and without exception, they are taken aback. Many men do not even realise that the actions that they are undertaking,from a wolf whistle to a physical gesture, are wrong. By being stood up to, it begins to dawn on these men for the first time that perhaps their gestures and attitudes behind them, are perhaps not as appropriate as they had originally supposed. But this message will only drive itself home if ALL women take a stand. Be brave and act on your rights.

  5. Foolish Foolish 16 November 2012

    I am in the same position as you, but I am older, so here’s some advice if you want it. You don’t “foolishly forget” to lock your door and you don’t give into demands to see your tatoos, so I think you are playing games. You say “no” very firmly and walk away. When they grab your arm or your hand and try to hold you back you say “Please let me go – this is not the way you treat a colleague.” and then leave. If someone hits on you say ( loudly for all to hear: ) “I am not interersted – I don’t play those kinds of games.” If they give you their keys, hand them in at reception and ask reception to come in and announce that a key has been handed in and could the owner please fetch it. When they order you drinks without asking leave them untouched and let them pay. Get security to walk you back to your room if its at one of those venues in the countryside – they really do understand. Unfortunately some men are pigs and they won’t change but you will find that once you have set the ground rules word will get out and you will generally be OK. Unfortunately, some sisters don’t do us any favours. They use conferences to “network” and to advance their careers, making it more difficut for those of us who are genuinely professional to do our jobs.

  6. Chris Chris 16 November 2012

    Find allies and deploy them. Not all men are monkeys.

  7. Chris Chris 16 November 2012

    This is not to say that you need the help of a man.
    I’m sure you’re quite capable of crushing toes.
    But “none of them would be listening to what she was saying” is just not true.

  8. Koketso Moeti Koketso Moeti 16 November 2012

    @Busi, you are right their silence makes them just as guilty. Turning a blind eye to something amounts to condoning it…

    @Masixole, truth be told- I didn’t even know women and men share rooms at such conferences. Everywhere else where I have been were single rooms and I have always assumed that like at schools, etc. women and men would be separate in the case of shared rooms. Nevertheless, yes these things have been happening for some time now…

    @Jamy, do you recall Zuma’s rape case? The accuser was branded a lying what-what before the matter ever went to trial and he was acquitted. It is not unique to the Zuma case, it happens quite frequently all around us- more so when it is people who hold certain positions. About standing up for one’s rights, a number of lesbians who did just that have been murdered amongst many other consequences. So, it is not that simple for everyone else no matter how empowered. I remember also a time when I was doing some work in Soshanguve a few years ago. There were some young men around a ‘gusheshe’ who harassed a young woman passing by. She bravely gave them a piece of her mind and they “taught her a lesson” violating her in the worst of ways. From certain comfort zones, it is easy to assume that it is as easy for everyone else. But in reality, it isn’t.

    @Foolish, please read properly before making assumptions. I write “asking if he could see her tattoo and she moved away, giving him a piece of her mind while doing so”, so I fail to see…

  9. Koketso Moeti Koketso Moeti 16 November 2012

    @Gareth, it is not a lumping together of all powerful men. The sentence you are referring to refers to all the powerful men that such exchanges were experience with, not a generalisation at all…

  10. Mashadi Mashadi 16 November 2012

    Oratile I’m impressed that you are sharing your story but my concern is that you are working and there are laws protecting all of us including men. Our society is sick across all races. Lurst kill most of us, and some people are used to do these things even other women entertain these things. You get appointed or promoted you get labelled you slept your way up, but if your conscious is clear don’t worry. They will alway spred malicious rumours about you but the truth will set you free. One thing about these gatherings is that people don’t use them to discuss strategic things or uplift each other but during networking they start discussing funny things. Small minds and those who don’t respect themseves do these funny things, get drunk to get excuses of their behavior. Don’t ever deprive yourself of your happiness because of the sick. If you don’t sit around after dinner it should be by choice, these are called white collar rapists. An old man making funny sexual remarks and think its cool, let me tell you those are the biggest fools and seek attention. It is clear they have bigger problems at home both men and women, if you are respecting yourself and family you need to do it all the time. You can’t be selective and wear different hats, me I don’t do things at these gatherings because I want to belong. These are groupies who destroy each other and don’t realise it. You need to set your priorities straight, you first and what makes you happy. Good luck Oratile my God…

  11. Sakkie Sakkie 16 November 2012

    Truth is, the Lady did not like what she was going through. period. That needs to be respected. Again, truth is, it’s not like men are safe either from the ladies, we politely duck and dive for the same reasons minus force from ladies, of course.

  12. Lesego Lesego 16 November 2012

    I recently had the same experience. I have learned over the years that everyone has a boss. Just because he is the big guy at the conference/industry/company it does not mean he does not have a boss in his life. His wife/ inlaws /daughters/clients. Everyone has a boss , make it clear you will not report him to HR , but to his boss and that goes beyond work.

    Society at large should stop protecting men who molest woman.

    I reported the matter , turned out the guy had harassed a few women in his company , but non of them came out to say anything. Also turned out there was evidence piling against him , and my contribution helped with the disciplinary process.

    There are always jokes thrown around about who will be sharing a room due to lack of space. My female colleague and I suggested to the guys who were entertaining sharing , to all share with each other , so she and I can be allocated individual rooms. The conversation ended when we turned the tables around and suggested the men share with each other to explore their bi-curious tendencies.
    Sorry about your experience , and thanks for sharing. This is not a black , white , SA men issue .It is global and simply about unwelcome advances at professional events.

  13. Rich Brauer Rich Brauer 16 November 2012

    @Masixole Ntunguntwana: Alright, I gotta ask, because it’s really hard to tell sometimes.

    Is that a parody?

  14. Phindile Phindile 16 November 2012

    My experience with black men has been awful. Revolting, and so entitled. Unable to control themselves. Those with a bit of power and money are the worst. Been treated like a prostitute at work regularly. Primitive.

  15. aka Sydney Smith aka Sydney Smith 17 November 2012

    But then there are some of us women who enjoy the company of exciting men–especially at a distant conference on a foreign continent that’s filled with delegates of all colors and backgrounds. I just returned from one in Senegal last week and I had a lovely time flirting and making friends with male delegates and presenters. In fact, I wish I had followed up on the concluding day with one inspiring man that still tickles my imagination–we would have had a really fun time….maybe next year?

    True, I was not in the same position as the author of this article–I wasn’t making a presentation and was only there to take notes on a subject for a biography that I’m writing. Of course I understand Oratile’s position entirely–when she says “no” she means “no.” What I am interjecting into this discussion is that there are plenty of respectable females looking for fun at these conferences and the men there should be searching for those types of adventure-seeking women and please leave the serious females who are at the conference purely for business reasons alone.

  16. nguni nguni 17 November 2012

    @ Masixole: it seems your thinking represents the majority of black male conference attendees. You find it ok that this nonsense goes on despite some of the women not wanting this ‘attention’? Despite your confused grammar it’s clear that as long as the guy spends lots of money on his victim no one should complain.

  17. Foolish Foolish 17 November 2012

    @Koketso – my apologies – I clearly misunderstood that passage.
    @ Masixole – you typify the stupidity of your ilk – making assumptions about women not wanting to be loney and somehow seeing it as your duty/right not only to make those assumptions, but to act on them. Pathetic!
    I’m ashamed to say but my experience is that is is more a problem with black men, but not all. I have some men friends who are absolute gentlemen and their wives would be proud.

    @aka Sydney – i’m confused – if a “respectable woman” goes to conferences looking for fun, how long will she remain “respectable?” After the 50th conference/delegate? You name the number she must work through before she loses her respectability and her dignity. As it is said, word gets round. In my view if you are able to sleep with strange men, regularly and without any qualms, you have a BIG problem. So does any future life partner that you may have. I guess its about values in the end.

  18. johnbpatson johnbpatson 17 November 2012

    Who do you report it to?
    Stop acting the hopeless female and report it to the police, at the conference front desk in a loud voice.
    All those SMS messages are proof, which cannot be erased.
    Then get a good lawyer and sue his pants off him.

  19. malutiman malutiman 18 November 2012

    Whateve it’s worth, and while the correspondence has been about the sexual entitlement of black men, the scenario is not much different among other circles in society. I’ve attended various conferences over the years, involving media in one way or another, at universities throughout SA and can say that the same predatory practices are in evidence at these. The approaches may be more subtle, even more sophisticated, but it’s no less pervasive. In fact, some of my white brothers described themselves as “conference travelators” and coudn’t stop themselves from boasting about their conquests, and astonishingly, who they planned to nail at the next conference. In all fairness, there were some equally predatory women doing the circuit

  20. Cliff Smith Cliff Smith 18 November 2012

    Next time you get room keys handed to you ladies please put this clever switch into motion!

  21. Rory Short Rory Short 18 November 2012

    The first thing that all us human beings need to do is to accept that we are quite naturally sexual beings. Then we need to recognise that really satisfying sexual encounters can only take place where there is a genuine mutual respect for one and other. The encounters that have been described here are far from this ideal, probably because the ideal is generally not recoognised as something worthwhile striving for by individuals within society.

  22. lesego32 lesego32 18 November 2012

    It is really sad. But what happened when that guy entered the room when you forgot to lock it? Did he force himself unto you? Did you refuse his advances? Did you give in because he is verÝ senior in your company? It will be a sad day if he did something to you and you did not report him because people will not believe you and say you wanted it. I will be impressed if you refused and reported him.

  23. Nduru Nduru 19 November 2012

    Thank you for sharing this Koketso. This is a reality and many younger women find it very difficult to react to the structural power that men have in the workplace because speaking out can really affect their career paths. Speaking out is not as easy as some of the respondents have made it out to be. I believe that those men who are not playing this sick game should also speak out against their colleagues who are abusing their positions in this way. Most of the men are married too, which makes this whole conference dalliance thing more than sick. Unfortunately, the modern world is full of workshops and conferences and most people spend their working lives at these things – eating food, earning per diems and commiting adultary – instead of doing their jobs. And what do most of these conferences achieve I ask you?

  24. Robert Robert 19 November 2012

    Oratile – as other suggest, stand up to these bullies and kick them physically and metaphorically where it hurts them and their puffed up opinions of themselves.

    Remember we can all empathise with your outrage at this presumptive and demeaning treatment shown you, male and female alike, as every citizen in our fine country is “molested” on a daily basis by the behaviour by these so called leaders, big bosses and others entrusted to lead in our society and democracy and their obligation to protect the dignity everyone, in a manner we all have demanded is enshrined in our constitution.

    These monsters very quickly and conveniently forget these founding principals as they wallow in their patronage and “elevated” positions in our “new”, very screwed up, superficial, instant self-gratification and “bling-bling” society.

    The future is indeed bleak, but again an appropriate “kick” might do the trick in providing the much needed “alignment” these rouges and philanderers deserve.

  25. Gauta Komane Gauta Komane 19 November 2012

    I was a young lawyer and UDF civic activist in 1990, when liberation exiles returned and began to set up offices in downtown Johannesburg and regional offices elsewhere. It was a culture shock to see how married men and older fellows used their positions in the Movement to demand (yes “demand”) sex from ladies far younger than themselves. For what? Mere position of “marshal” or just to eat KFC or sleep in an hotel while everyone else ate brown bread and chips as well as sleep in the bus….These were standard fare and, being used to them, we were not really bothered about their quality…The elections of 1994 ushered a new era in male chauvinism. I though I was witnessing a sexual revolution. Girls slept with men whose surnames they hardly knew in exchange for temporary jobs in the Peace Monitoring structures, election teams as well as voter education programmes. It reached the climax with the formation of a new govt when women were raped, impregnated and infected with disease, in the name of a govt job (even up to parliamentary and cabinet levels)…This latter location of woman abuse is continuing and deepening. The tenders and jobs are for sale, monetarily and sexually

  26. Mack Nyati Mack Nyati 20 November 2012

    aka Sydney Smith #

    That’s saying it as it is… everybody has his/her own choice how to deal with any situation in life… and no-one should judge others. What should prevail is mutual respect… ‘don’t do unto others what you would not want to be done to you’…

  27. Isabella Meyer Isabella Meyer 20 November 2012

    Having had some of those situations myself, I have used a few “light-hearted” comments that got the point across. When my CIO told me that with all the comments that they had been making, I could have taken them to court in the US for sexual harrasment, I told him “I am saving up, thank you.” That sort of changed his tune.

    For another client, I said that “I knew for a fact that he is paying for our intellectual capacity and nothing else.”, which didn’t quite ward him off, but at least left me feeling empowered.

    The final one if it comes to a head is to look him straight in the eye and announce very loudly “It’s never going to happen. Which part of No did you not understand”

    If he then tries and fires you, you have a myriad of witnesses. Men like that are bullies, and unfortunately you have to fight fire with fire. When they get the same medicine back, they usually back off. You don’t have to be rude about it, but you have to stand your ground.

    I actually once slapped someone who decided it a good idea to grope me at one of these functions. When he kept on harrassing me, the other men stepped in and told him to back off. Make sure that you stick around with the good guys, there are many of them too.

  28. javaringo javaringo 21 November 2012

    This man are the ones who have the cash to bring along thier spouses at this functions. But becouse of thier lust they use this as opportunities to rape those of less status to them. Good enough the go home pretending to be loving, caring and good fuck””s to thier wives.

  29. michael michael 21 November 2012

    Isabella, as a male i am ashamed as to the behaviour of men in these situations, but i love your spunky attitude, good for you.

  30. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 22 November 2012

    @Michael,in Vegas the Madams love it when there are conventions are held in this town. Many of the Madams are getting $i0,000 and up for their girls for a few hours of work. So, this is part of the hustle flow of life and this is what grown people are doing. As long as the people don’t try to force people to do things they don’t want to do, there is no big deal.

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