Saturday, October 23, 2010

Boys are better (protected) than girls

At the young age of 6, boys already feel the superiority complex that boys may be better than girls, physically and mentally. But where are boys getting this idea? There is much to be said about child development. However, one cannot ignore one of the biggest factors to this type of thinking: adults. Through example, we are instilling in children the preferential treatment of men. Through female and male interactions, both at home and in public, children are learning that there is a difference between men and women and that because of this difference men have an easier life.

The effects of family values on youth, especially with cultural differences and development, may be difficult to explain and combat in regards to this notion that boys are better than girls. However, we should not ignore the power and authority that public spheres have in molding our youth, especially in the school-setting. Although we ideally would like to believe schools are a safe place where everyone is treated fairly and given the opportunity to grow and develop into outstanding citizens, I am concerned that this may not be true. Multiple incidents suggest that schools are dropping the ball on providing an equal and safe learning environment for female students.

In one instance, school officials at Upper St. Clair High School ignored the pleas of a female student who told her teacher that a boy at the school sexually assaulted her and other female students. Instead of calling law enforcement officials, or even notifying the victim's parents, the principal initiated his own investigation because he didn't believe the female student,
Dr. Ghilani didn't believe that the students were in danger or that any safety concerns were present. Instead, he thought students were having consensual sex in school after hours...[he] believed that the girls liked [the accused], and were jealous of the other [alleged victims].
There are various reasons the principal could have reacted this way, but it's interesting to note that the female victim was instantly discredited and ignored, while the male accused received instant credibility. In a situation so serious, which takes a lot of courage to tell even a close friend, the female student was even given the benefit of the doubt by the school official, who is supposed to ensure the well-being and safety of all students.

What is even more appalling is that the victim was raped again as a result of the principal's "sting operation," in which he used the female student as "bait" to figure out whether students were engaging in sexual activity on school campus. Regardless of whether the girl engaged in consensual sex, the principal's actions were alarming and dangerous. He disregarded the severity of the situation as well as the welfare of the female student.

I would like to think this is an extreme situation and a one time deal. However, this is not the only school failing to act when female students are being sexually harassed and assaulted. Another "bait" lawsuit was filed in September, Hill v. Madison County School Board, in which school officials knew one of their students was sexually harassing female students. After school officials did nothing to punish the boy, a teacher used the "bait" tactic, which resulted in the raping of another female student. Similarly, school officials kicked a student off the cheerleading squad for refusing to cheer for her rapist.

What is happening at these schools? Why aren't female students being taken seriously when they implicate another student, a male student, for sexual harassment and assault?

It is clear that schools need to get serious and change their policy towards victims of sexual assault. But, in general, schools must guarantee equal protection and safety for all their student. Because schools are in the position to mold our youth, every action they take and how they handle sensitiv incidents will have an impact on their students. When students see this kind of disrespect, especially on a systemwide level, they are likely to mimic the same sentiments in life.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

This post reminded me of events in the recent past.

About this time last year, a 15-year-old girl in Richmond was gang-raped outside a campus homecoming dance while a crowd of students watched but did nothing to intervene.

Even though the sense of horror has probably long since faded for most of the students and staff at Richmond High- it is important to remember valuable lessons from that incident. There were over 20 onlookers to this brutal gang rape. These bystanders choose to do nothing to stop it or report it and some even recorded the rape. The assault did not end until a woman at a nearby party, overheard men talking about the assault and called police. The school let both site supervisors for the dance leave early that night. The school is certainly responsible for the lack of security at the dance and the lack of supervision of the surrounding school grounds.
But I wonder what goes on in Richmond, in the classrooms and at home that produces the attitudes that enable this kind of violent assault to take place and have people be silent about it.
It reminds me of the bystander effect that was first used in 1964 to describe the murder of Kitty Genovese. She was a 28-year-old woman who was robbed, beaten and raped and then stabbed to death. Her cries of help were heard and the assault was seen by at least a dozen neighbors in nearby apartments in Queens, New York. But the Richmond campus gang rape was something beyond mere bystander indifference. The people that witnessed this vicious rape of a young girl by multiple men were not apathetic, they recorded it, they actively remained silent not just while it was going on, but after when police were trying to locate the perpetrators.
A year later, what lessons must be learned? Schools and parents must teach young people that sexual assault and harassment against girls is cannot be ignored or tolerated. Adults must insure that these behaviors do not go unpunished. Taking a, "Boys will be boys," attitude towards any attacks against female students only reinforces the socially engrained message that women and girls are worth less, that rape is a joke, that denigration of women is acceptable.