Victory in court: students can inform schools of sexual harassment

The Estonian Human Rights Centre is supporting a young athlete named Miia in court. She confidentially reported to the head of her school about the sexual harassment she experienced as a minor and her coach filed a defamation complaint against her together with a claim for compensation for damage. Today, the court ruled in Miia’s favour.

The court found that the so-called “defamation” provisions do not apply to the reporting of harassment to the head of the school. The main goal of §§ 1046 and 1047 of the Law of Obligations Act is to protect persons against disclosure of data and assessments to unauthorised third parties which are defamatory and damage their good name. In the assessment of the court, neither the student, teacher or coach are unauthorised third parties in this case, but members of the same organisation. The Court also highlights a broader view, according to which, for example, the University of Tartu’s guidelines for equal treatment emphasise the responsibility of heads of structural units and immediate supervisor in dealing with such cases.

Attorney at law Meris Velling from law firm LIVERTE, who represents Miia in court, today’s judgment is of historic importance for Miia as well as society at large: “Harassment is a serious violation of human rights and it must be possible to report harassment in a safe and reliable manner.” This dispute demonstrates just how badly schools and workplaces need a safe reporting system to be put into place so that victims of harassment have the courage to report what has happened and can be sure that reporting harassment will not harm their future education or working life. “Hopefully, today’s judgement will remain in force and will encourage other young people, and there will be fewer people who will be left alone with their concerns,” added Velling.

“It is particularly pleasing to learn about the positive court decision today when we celebrate Day of Knowledge and start of the school year in Estonia. Therefore it is a good time to emphasise that harassment cases should be taken seriously when dealing with minors and in the school environment – we need to create a safe space where children and young people can talk about their experiences. You can also turn to our Centre for counselling,” said Kelly Grossthal, Head of Strategic Litigation at the Estonian Human Rights Centre.

The Centre would like to thank all the donors who made the court case possible. 

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