Published by SchoolAdvisor | May 07, 2021
Photo by Nate Neelson via Unsplash
Lately, the Internet has been abuzz about news and views on sexual harassment in school. It all started with a shocking turn of events that have led to a police report, several rape threats and an ugly reveal about how depraved some parts of society are (but that’s a story for another day).
The hashtag #MakeSchoolASaferPlace went viral last week and the topic is still being hotly debated on forums and social media. Here’s a breakdown of what prompted this:
Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam, otherwise known as Ant33ater on Twitter is the brave and courageous 17 year old girl who posted a TikTok video about her experience with sexual harassment at school.
Photo by Kawliflower via Twitter
Ironically, the incident occured in class while her male teacher was teaching the topic of sexual harassment which is part of the Physical Education or Pendidikan Jasmani dan Pendidikan Kesihatan (PJPK) syllabus. In the middle of his class, he started making obscene and repulsive comments.
Upon discussing the topic of laws protecting minors from sexual abuse, the teacher said to the class, “If you want to rape, don’t rape anyone below 18. Rape those above 18 instead.”
The girls in class remained silent but the boys laughed at the teacher’s so-called ‘joke’. The discussion took an even more disturbing turn when the teacher said that rape cases among boys are not reported because it feels good (sedap) for them, hence it’s okay.
Photo by Suara.com
Ain did more than just post TikTok videos. She reported the incident to the school counsellor who is also male. Although he did apologise on behalf of the teacher, the counsellor responded by saying this situation is ‘normal’ because boys will laugh and brush off the ‘joke’ but female students are rather emotional and sensitive.
Adding insult to the injury, Ain’s next video highlighted the fact that the teacher also said to the girls, “If you get raped, nothing can be done and you should just scream and accept it” (redha).
This whole incident has prompted many others, even another girl at Ain’s school to voice out their own experiences with sexual harassment. The sheer number of girls speaking up are worrying.
The latest development of events have also seen female teachers speaking up about their experiences with being sexually harassed, as reported by Ain’s father.
The girl at Ain’s school experienced an incident with the same teacher but was too afraid to report the incident as the teacher in question was a discipline teacher and known to be strict.
This is exactly what made Ain want to say something, instead of brushing it under the carpet. Before Ain went to the police, she asked the counselling teacher if any action would be taken against the teacher. She was told no because he wasn’t there when the incident happened. That was when she took matters into her own hands and lodged a police report.
The very act of her reporting to the police led to Ain receiving a recorded verbal rape threat from one of her male schoolmates for speaking up about this incident and ‘bringing shame to the school’s name’. The male schoolmate has since apologised for threatening her. This only spurred Ain on as she sees this as a prevalent culture of discrimination and rape in schools.
In order to discredit Ain and make her seem less reliable, a rumour about her being autistic spread around her school. This is an indicator of how poor our children’s awareness about their own rights are. They are unable to understand the nuances of sexual harassment.
Associate Professor Dr. Kamal Kenny, Chairman of Federation of Reproductive Health Association Malaysia (FRHAM)
“The incident clearly reflects on the lack of knowledge on sexual harassment. The use of innuendos during a class allows a person to interpret is as sexual harassment. More awareness needs to be created on this subject to ensure both the recipients and the person who is ignorant about the actual meaning of sexual harassment is aware that a wrong statement may warrant a case to be classified as sexual harassment,” said Associate Professor Dr Kamal Kenny, Chairman of Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia (FRHAM).
Dr. Kenny has extensive experience in the field of reproductive health, having worked with kids and teenagers at a grassroots level. He strongly believes that not just anyone can teach topics like sexual harassment.
In responding to the question of who is qualified to teach such a topic, he answered, ”Undoubtedly, someone who is well versed in this area and teaches the children without any personal values imposed during the session. Besides that, one must be really familiar with the right terminologies and ensure that the knowledge imparted is based on facts and figures.”
He added that the session should ideally be fun and interactive, and based on his own past experience, the educator should expect a barrage of questions.
“Answer each question and clear whatever doubts these young people have on this subject which has been regarded as taboo for a long time,” stated Dr. Kenny.
It would be unfair to put the whole blame on teachers. It is important to ensure that teachers are trained in the first place to teach the subject and to know what would be inappropriate to say in class.
Currently, the subject is only given half an hour. It’s not easy to cover such a heavy topic in that time frame. There also needs to be better monitoring and evaluation to ensure that what is being taught is effective.
Of course, parents play a role too.
Dr. Kenny stressed that parents should also be empowered to speak to their children about sexual education from an early age. Based on his field research, he states that internet accessibility is definitely a reason that many young children are exposed to inappropriate sites at an early age.
Being in the phase of wanting to explore, their curiosity leads to them desiring an experience of their own. This is why parents need to intervene and strictly monitor their children’s activities, especially when they are using gadgets to ensure that the content they’re looking at is age appropriate.
“Parents should introduce the concept of ‘Good Touch, Bad Touch’ to their children to equip them with this knowledge in the event someone tries to behave inappropriately with them,” he added.
Photo by Anh Nguyen via Unsplash
The lack of proper sexual education cannot be ignored because Malaysia comes with the third highest number of teenage pregnancies in Southeast Asia. About 18,000 teenage girls become pregnant every year, according to latest statistics. This average is only going to increase, and is likely even higher if we take into account unreported cases.
Dr. Kenny asserts that the Ministry of Education has made some strides in the area of sex ed, but perhaps the work done has not been extensive at all levels.
“There should be an increase in concerted efforts and discussion between relevant agencies to push this agenda forward. A strategic plan by various agencies on ensuring ‘No one is left behind’ in educating every child on sex ed should be the ideal way forward,” he concluded.
Former Deputy Minister of Education, Teo Nie Ching said schools should stop treating the Physical and Health Education (PJPK) subject as unimportant. She was reported saying that due to its taboo nature, sex ed is not named in the school subject, and is instead included into the PJPK.
Teenage pregnancies are not the only concern. Sexual crimes against children have increased over the years. Teo quoted that Malaysia has become a hotspot for sexual crimes against children, hence we must teach them from a young age how to prevent it from happening to them.
Photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition via Unsplash
Furthermore, it is not enough to just have a sex ed syllabus. It should also be reviewed from time to time as children are constantly getting information from social media.
Shoba Aiyar, President of Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM) states that what is desperately needed is age-appropriate, evidence-based and comprehensive sexuality education to reduce unwanted and unplanned pregnancies.
The numbers speak for themselves. Aiyar states that abstinence-based sex ed has not proven to be an effective strategy to address adolescent sexual and reproductive health. She says what we need are contemporary strategies, rather than repeating failed conservative recommendations that are not evidence-based, nor youth demand-driven.
RRAAM also emphasises on the need for easy access to contraception and healthcare for sexually-active adolescents. Besides that, teenagers and young people require non-judgemental and affordable health services to go hand in hand with sex ed to ensure young people have the access to healthcare.
It is safe to say that this problem isn’t going to go away overnight. Concerted efforts from all relevant parties, as well as genuine support from parents and teachers will go a long way in ensuring that all young people are properly educated on sexual education and better equipped to recognise sexually inappropriate behaviours. If we don’t take action, who will?