(for School Leaders, Teachers and other education stakeholders)
Part 1: The School is likely the most influential organization in any society
Abuse, in many shapes and forms, and has always been around. A few months ago, an elderly man (the man whose name and face rarely showed up on the images being spread over the internet), raped a young girl who ended up losing her life. But as is the case with these things attention on this serious matter has died down, at least from public attention. It is time we moved attention to other things. However, simply dropping the conversation will not help. Abusers are still out and present in our communities, homes, workplaces and schools. We rarely take the time to think about this, but the after effects of abuse (in general) while most intense for the primary victim, have far reaching effects on the collective health and state of a society.
We have delegated to schools and their teachers a huge responsibility and authority for them to mould our children into the collective ideals of our society; to make them self sufficient and forthright citizens contributing to the betterment of the nation as a whole. Schools have great potential in helping us fight abuse. Apart from sleep, school is easily the place our children spend the most of their waking time. While in school our children get to interact with their peers and with adults in the school in ways that give us an opportunity to prevent and spot potential as well as occurring abuse and deal with abusers appropriately.
However, schools themselves have become places where abuse happens. Stories of school teachers getting involved with students and teachers impregnating students are not uncommon in our communities. But we have seen this elsewhere too, in our workplaces. Wherever you have a situation of authority and subordination or vulnerability there is potential for abuse. Issues of abuse are becoming increasingly heard of in the public sphere, but it is not because there wasn’t as much abuse in earlier times. It is just that nowadays, with the increasing penetration of social media, we are getting to hear about it more; it has always been there.
Since abuse does not go away on its own, we have to make conscious as well as consistent efforts at communal and national levels to ensure that wherever we have a power/authority disparity, we install abuse prevention and response mechanisms and institute stringent punishment wherever abuse is discovered. As you can agree with us, a concerted effort is needed if we are to tackle the problem of abuse, especially sexual abuse. Areas that will be of the strongest help will be schools and hospitals/clinics as staff in schools and hospitals interface with children all the time and hence have the greatest opportunity to diagnose and prevent abuse. Consider for instance the situation where the community, the school, the local health clinic (PHU)and local police units work together in harmony. In such situations, abuse can be spotted early and mitigating measures executed promptly.
The focus of this thought piece is focused on how schools can work to become safe environments for our children and how they can help us prevent and respond to issues of abuse. Lack of time, resources and know-how are key roadblocks in efforts to make schools safer, however there are many effective solutions that can be implemented with little to no cost or time. Enlisting the support of the PTA and SMC members, involving community leaders and building good relationships with local policing and health officers can help build a strong network of abuse prevention and response.