Sex abuse victim teaches school that silence is truly shameful
I want to applaud a 13-year-old girl who was almost gang-raped by fellow students during a lunch break at her school in Chumphon province for her decision to go public with the fact that she had been sexually abused. The girl decided, against the advice of her teachers, to tell her parents of the unfortunate incident, which prompted them to take action against the six schoolboys who sexually harassed her.
Thai Rath reported on Friday that the victim's mother and the school's parents representative were seeking justice for the victim, a Mor 2 student.
The story is tragic: she was reportedly sexually molested by a gang of six schoolboys who were trying to take off her school uniform and touch her body while one of them filmed the scene on his mobile phone. But there was a fortunate ending to the story. The victim was narrowly rescued by a group of five young girls.
Afterwards, the victim decided to press charges against the boys despite having received the opposite instruction from the school's teachers, whose integrity has been put into question, as they seemed to be more preoccupied with saving face than the welfare of their students.
The incident happened, according to Thai Rath, in a most unlikely setting: a classroom during lunch break. The girl was walking to her classroom during lunch on September 4, when she was pulled into the classroom by a 14-year-old boy. Another five boys were waiting there to sexually abuse her. One of the boys took such pleasure in the incident that he took out his mobile phone to record it.
The victim was crying for help, and luckily a group of five young girls who were passing by heard her screams. Once the girls realised what was happening, they rushed in to rescue the victim. One of the girls was quick-thinking enough to snatch the mobile phone from the hands of the boy recording the scene, realising that this could provide solid evidence once further action was taken against the boys.
However, once the girls showed the clip to teachers, they tried to sweep the dirt under the carpet for fear of "bringing shame" to the school. Each of the boys was caned twice as punishment. A sad aspect of the event is that the teachers asked all the girls not to tell anyone about the scandal.
But the young victim didn't feel right about this reaction. She felt very humiliated and she didn't want to go to school. Later, she told her parents, who became furious and decided to bring the case to the police. The parents also brought the case up at a meeting with other parents in order to warn them to protect their children.
The parents' association asked the school to explain its lenient reaction to the issue and it was informed that the boys' actions were simply due to their raging hormones.
While the legal case is pending a police investigation, the school's reaction has come under scrutiny. The school's response was in fact nothing new. Other victims of sexual abuse and their families have tended to keep these incidents secret out of fear that the ensuing scandal would bring them shame.
In this case, the teachers feared that the incident would tarnish the school's reputation. Therefore, they decided to underplay the incident, by dismissing it as simply the result of raging hormones - despite the fact that it was a whisker away from turning into a gang rape. Besides, the school failed to show the boys involved that one's morality and integrity should not be compromised. The failure to take action against the boys sent them the wrong signal that the school found their actions acceptable.
The upside of this incident was the reaction from the girl's parents, who listened to her sympathetically, which has helped her recover from the physical and emotional onslaught. Other parents in their place may have chosen to be silent for the same reasons that the girl's school did. The teachers failed to understand that the girl deserved to be able to deal with the incident by being free to talk about it and by knowing that the perpetrators received the punishment they deserved.
Besides, the girl has apparently received strong emotional support from the group of five girls who rescued her from the ordeal. Other girls in their place might have turned a blind eye to the incident out of fear for their own safety.
Finally, the victim herself did a decent thing by going public with her story, against the instruction of her teachers. She confided to her parents and encouraged them to take the case to the parents' association so that the parents of other girls would know that the school could be a very dangerous place.
Have the students learned anything from this story? No, we don't need to repeat grand notions like "justice will prevail". But the simple answer is that bad incidents can be avoided with a little help from school peers. The irony of this is that the most childish reaction came from adult teachers.
The Nation Sept. 13, 2008