Every child has the right to be safe and protected in society no matter their gender, nationality, racial or economic status.
Yet globally, we live in an unequal society. Cultural mores can clash with gender violence and gender rights. Religious directives are easily manipulated. Racism divides nations. Economic disparity creates a cesspool for abuses in human rights.
Almost every country on the globe, strives to achieve protection of children under 18 years of age with the rights to not be treated in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way. Yet still, modern society and urban lifestyles leave groups vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse.
Verbal harassment becomes the precursor to atrocities in sexual harassment, sexual assault and physical abuse.
It is my experience as a global consulting educational sociologist that such behaviours have become a norm in many child related environments, and is especially prevalent in the school and learning environments.
Every day I witness young children being exposed to inappropriate touching, grabbing of genitals in ‘play’ or on the sports field, suggestive body contact, sexual bullying and victimisation by sexual rumours. Related and devastating instances of sexual abuse and rape see high occurrences within primary, high school and college and university educational environments. My research reveals that it starts on the playground.
Creating a Society of Vulnerable Children
Working with young children, I witness that all forms of sexual harassment and abuse see the vulnerable child affected by trauma which results in confusion, despair, loss of personal power, poor concentration, absenteeism, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal.
Sexual violence not only impacts those who are emotionally or physically hurt, but also those around them. Group members on either side of the victim or perpetrator become part of the social dynamic that enforces sexual power plays and creates secondary victimisation and an inability to learn appropriate social functioning.
Research: It Starts on the Playground
My research tells us that students whose behaviours are not corrected at an early age go on to perpetrate sexual harassment and sexually abusive behaviour as adults and go on to becoming husbands, wives, bosses and community leaders who continue to sexually harass others.
The victims of early sexual harassment and abuse remain at risk of harm throughout their school years and are impeded in their personal development, often finding themselves in vulnerable relationships and jobs as adults.
How children respond to Sexual Harassment
There is no right or wrong way for a victim of sexual violence to respond. Each personality and environment will present a different set of enablers. As adults, parents and educators we need to remain alert to the child’s cry to help. Often this may not be a verbal indicator from the child but rather an adult’s observant response to physical, mental and emotional indicators in the child’s behaviour witnessed by the adult.
Telling someone that cares
Some victims and some participating perpetrators may tell an adult or peer about what has happened. It is my experience that far too many don’t, fuelled by fear and shame or a lack of knowledge of how socially unacceptable the behaviour is.
Perpetrators and social groupings of children can often make the victim believe they are at fault. That they brought the behaviour upon themselves and therefore no matter what they do, there is something wrong with them; or they won’t be believed, or that they will lose their friends or loved ones if they don’t keep it a secret.
Schools must work proactively with parents in protecting children from sexual violence.
If you need help in giving your child a voice in protecting themselves from sexual harassment and abuse contact Voice of the Child Association. We offer school and parent educational programs for children from age 5 to 16 years.
If you have an issue of sexual harassment in your learning environment please feel free to contact me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org.