Wayne Campbell, Contributor
JUST WHEN one thought all the factors negatively affecting and impacting Jamaica's education system have been analysed, another form of impediment has reared its ugly head, that of sexual bullying. Sexual bullying involves comments, jokes, actions, or attention that is intended to hurt, offend, or intimidate another person. It is more common than we think, and it affects pupils in both single-sex high schools and co-educational high schools alike.
As with any form of bullying, the perpetrator seeks out that individual who is considered the weakest among the pack. Sexually bullying is no different. This form of harassment is usually seen more often in high schools as against primary schools. The focus of sexual bullying is on body parts, as well as the victim's appearance and or perceived sexual orientation. Boys can harass members of the opposite sex as well as members of their same sex. Girls can harass members of their same sex and even members of the opposite sex, although I suspect the later is not as common as the others in our society. Adults can sexually harass children also.
Sexual orientation has to do with whom one mostly finds sexually and romantically attractive. A girl who gets crushes or who is sexually attracted to a member of the same sex may consider herself lesbian.
As a society, we have always operated in a hypocritical and paradoxical nature regarding sexual orientation. We have always viewed lesbians more favourably than gays, despite the fact that Jamaica is seen and considered by the outside world as a highly homophobic society.
As a nation we have failed our young people in terms of providing good role models. Our parenting skills leave much to be desired. A significant number of our children live in dysfunctional family units. Single-family female-headed households are now the norm. This, in itself, is the genesis of most of the problems/issues affecting the Jamaican family today. A working single female cannot adequately supervise her children, especially if she does not have the financial resources to employ a helper to assist her. The breakdown of the concept of the extended family is quickly disappearing from the Jamaican family. Many fathers' names do not appear on the birth certificate of their children. The absence of our fathers in the rearing of our children, especially our boys, continue to add stress to the family structure. Our children no longer attend Sunday and or Sabbath schools. The moral teachings the church provides is, therefore, absent. The teaching of religious education as subject is quickly dying; this was also another avenue for moral teachings in our schools. Sunday is now a day for horse racing and other forms of entertainment. Additionally, our crude and sexually-laced popular culture, namely dancehall music, also adds to the destruction path we are on.
abandonment of values
Our proximity to North America and the influx and influence of subscriber television (cable television) are all factors which have greatly contributed to the abandonment of old values and good family life practices to that of new questionable values. As we become more sophisticated and modern, pornography has become more rampant in the society. Sexting" is now the norm rather than the exception for many teenagers. This is one way in which gossip, and sexually laced comments may be spread to destroy people's self-esteem and character, especially in a relatively small space such of that of a school.
Therefore, we should not be surprised that our children are now experimenting with sexual diversity in this digital era we now live in. Children receive formal and informal messages about their gender identity from a multitude of sources. Some of which are families, peers, communities and, of course, the media. Your gender identity is who you feel as if you are on the inside (male, female, both, neither, flexible) While your gender expression has to do with how your act on the outside, that is, how you walk, talk, sit, dress and so on. Both gender identity and gender expression impact whether one sees him/herself as more masculine than feminine or vice versa. This always impacts how other individuals see and respond to you.
We can almost be sure that the problem highlighted at the specific Corporate Area all-girls school is not unique to that institution. All our educational institutions, co-educational and same-sex, are dealing with similar issues.
What can and should be done? The first line of defence against sexually bullying is the Ministry of Education, and as such, the Ministry of Education needs to take the lead in setting policies to address the issue of sexual bullying. A sexual-harassment policy or a bullying policy should be put in place to clearly inform all stakeholders that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. This policy should also outline the sanctions and penalties that will be applied if anyone decides to go ahead and bully another person. Clearly, we need to address the wider issue which presents itself. The wider issue here is our unwillingness to have a mature and frank discussion with all stakeholders regarding sexual orientation as a human-rights issue. By now, we should realise that by by ignoring or wishing the problem to go away has not worked and will not work.
therapy to change
Clearly, these students are in need of much therapy and counselling. Many experts believe one can change one's sexual orientation through therapy. Our guidance counsellors are well-trained professionals and, therefore, their services should be made available to those troubled students as well as their parents. The perpetrators of the lesbian attacks should be asked to withdraw from school until they have sought counselling. By allowing them to remain at the school, we are sending the wrong message, not only to the victims of their attack, but the wider school community.
Counselling should also be provided to the victims of such sexual attacks. Maybe a change of school would also be in the best interest of those students. To remain at the school may only serve as a reminder of the horrible and horrific ordeal they experienced.
Additionally, administrators must be more vigilant in terms of what takes place at their school. After all these incidents occurred at the school. Measures must be put in place to have some sort of supervision and monitoring of what takes place on school grounds, regardless of the time of the day.
We should also encourage our children to speak out whenever they have been abused and or threatened.
Schools could and should create bathroom messages that emphasise that no one has the right to abuse and or invade another person space, this by itself will not prevent some students, so a list of teachers to contact would have be most useful also.
The Ministry of Education could also have workshops for teachers to remind and expose them to the rights of children. By so doing, teachers will be better able to assist wherever the need presents itself. We could and should incorporate all the agencies of the state that work with children, as well, in this fight.
It is quite possible the events of recent times can serve to strengthen our Parent Teachers Associations (PTAs) and provide avenues for them to find creative measures to improve the security of schools in which they operate, such as investing in high-tech security measures. Maybe more PTAs could install surveillance cameras at central points to ensure that their children, especially those in the lower grades, are adequately supervised after hours. Maybe they could employ additional security guards to bolster the existing security; this may just serve as a deterrent to the predators. The truth is these older girls have become predators.
Our schools should be a safe place for teaching and learning. No one should be bullied, preyed upon, whether sexually and or physically. Our schools must reclaim what they once were; a clean and protected environment for all to fully maximise their potential.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and gender-rights advocate firstname.lastname@example.org. Send comments to email@example.com.