Trigger Warning: sexual harassment, abuse, predatory behavior
Back in summer 2020, allegations of harassment and predatory behaviour were shared on social media against certain O&A Level teachers. It was later found out that in multiple cases, complaints had been made to school admin who had ignored the students, or victim-blamed them instead. However, in some cases, the social media outcry led to the firing of some of the harassers and state action against them.
These incidents made me think back to when I was in 7th and 8th grade in an all-girls class, most of us had Facebook accounts at that point, but we never imagined using it in the way it is used now, as a tool for activism and accountability. We had an incredibly creepy music teacher, who would sometimes call individual students to the music room at the back of the school for 'practice'. For us, reporting him was not even an option because we didn't even know that was something we could do, or that if we did that, we would be taken seriously.
So, instead, we decided that no one would ever go to the music room alone, they would always go with at least two other girls, and in that way, we protected and supported ourselves as best as we could. The teacher would get pissed at the extra students showing up and often kick them out of the room, but we would just stand outside and make it known that we were there.
I share this experience because it isn't just my story, or that of my school friends, but the story of hundreds and thousands of school girls all over the world who are subjected to sexual abuse and violence in the process of getting an education. More often than not, there are no formal mechanisms to seek protection and register complaints. In such situations, female students lend support to and protect each other in whatever way they can.
I feel that the way the MeToo movement has utilized social media to expose harassers and empower victims is particularly relevant in this context because it has given female students another tool for protection by not only allowing them to share their stories of abuse but also giving them access to mental health resources, legal aid, and support networks. In the absence of school policies against sexual harassment, this is a good start, but it raises important questions about whether it is enough to protect students? especially given that there are millions of students across the world who have no access to social media or even the internet.
If 13 year old me had known that there was someplace/someone we could turn to for help on Facebook, someway we could put an end to the abuse, maybe our experiences from that time would have been very different. Maybe a bunch of 13-year-olds wouldn't have needed to accompany their friends to the music room, to lurk outside it to ensure that their friends did not become victims too.