To create a healthy classroom environment, you sometimes need to be able to ask yourself tough questions. Are you doing enough to combat sexual harassment? Are you allowing sexist comments in your classroom? Are you subconsciously giving the boys more rights or privileges than the girls?
Such responsibilities are naturall – but naturally, parents have a critical role to play here too.
We all have a collective responsibility to teach children the difference between what is right and what we can never accept.
The story below is a perfect example of when we must take a clear stand, and what happens if we do not.
It all begins in a classroom where a girl is constantly harassed by a fellow classmate. At some point, the boy tries loosen her bra-strap, and that’s when she’s simply had enough.
She hits the boy twice in the face. The school management then phones the girl’s mother, but that’s when the story takes a new turn…
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(I’m an A&E nurse. We’re not allowed our phones on us; they’re to be kept in our lockers. A call comes into hospital reception on a private line for me.)
Phone: “This is [Teacher] from [School]. There’s been an incident involving [Daughter]. We need you to come in.”
Me: “Is she ill or injured? Can it wait until my shift is over in two hours?”
Phone: “[Daughter] has struck another pupil. We’ve been trying to call you for 45 minutes. It really is very serious.”
(I go to the school and am ushered into the head’s office. I see my daughter, her head of year, a male teacher, the headmaster, a boy with blood around his nose and a red face, and his parents.)
Head: “Mrs. [My Name], how kind of you to FINALLY join us!”
Me: “Yeah, things get busy in A&E. I’ve spent the last hour administering over 40 stitches to a seven-year-old who was beaten by his mother with a metal ladle and then I had to deal with the police regarding the matter. Sorry for the inconvenience.”
(After watching him try to not act embarrassed, he tells me what has happened. The boy had twanged my daughter’s bra and she had punched him in the face twice. I got the impression they were more angry with my daughter than the boy.)
Me: “Oh. And you want to know if I’m going to press charges against him for sexually assaulting my daughter and against the school for allowing him to do it?”
(They all get jittery when I mention sexual assault and start speaking at once.)
Teacher: “I don’t think it was that serious.”
Head Of Year: “Let’s not over-react.”
Head: “I think you’re missing the point.”
(The boy’s mother then starts crying. I turn to my daughter to find out what happened.)
Daughter: “He kept pinging my bra. I asked him to stop but he didn’t, so I told Mr. [Teacher]. He told me to ‘ignore it.’ [Boy] did it again and undid my bra so I hit him. Then he stopped.”
(I turn to the teacher.)
Me: “You let him do this? Why didn’t you stop him? Come over here and let me touch the front of your trousers.”
Teacher: “What?! No!”
Me: “Does that seem inappropriate to you? Why don’t you go and pull on Mrs. [Head Of Year]’s bra right now. See how fun it is for her. Or on that boy’s mom’s bra. Or mine. You think just because they’re kids it’s fun?”
Head: “Mrs. [My Name]. With all due respect, [Daughter] still beat another child.”
Me: “No. She defended herself against a sexual attack from another pupil. Look at them; he’s nearly 6 feet and 11 or 12 stone. She’s 5 feet and 6 stone. He’s a foot taller than her and twice as heavy. How many times should she have let him touch her? If the person who was supposed to help and protect her in a classroom couldn’t be bothered what should she have done? He pulled her bra so hard it came undone.”
(The boy’s mom is still crying and his dad looks both angry and embarrassed. The teacher won’t make eye contact with me. I look at the headmaster.)
Me: “I’m taking her home. I think the boy has learnt his lesson. And I hope nothing like this ever happens again, not only to [Daughter], but to any other girl at this school. You wouldn’t let him do it to a member of staff so what makes you think he can do it to a girl of 15 is beyond me. I will be reporting this to the governors. And if you—” *turning to the boy* “—EVER touch my daughter again I WILL have you arrested for sexual assault. Do you understand me?”
(I was so angry I gathered my daughter’s things and left. I reported it to the Board of Governors, several of whom I know from Church (it’s a Catholic school), and was assured it would be strongly dealt with. I also reported it to OFSTED (Government-run school monitoring) and they were equally as horrified and assured me they would contact the school. My daughter was put into a different class for that subject, away from the teacher and the boy.)