How to create safe learning environments for Young Children

My research reveals that in a class of 30 young school children in kindergarten or Grade One today, at least 6 of the children are being sexually harassed.

We don’t need statistics to tell us that sexual harassment, sexual bullying, and sexual abuse are rife in schools. One which poses a real threat to learners entering school environments from the early age of 5 years.

It is also my experience that many teachers, principals, au pairs, aftercare, and sports facilities, and other adult caregivers are unaware that they are legally and ethically obliged to protect learners from sexual harassment and gender violence whilst in their care.

Not only do all teachers and educators need to respond appropriately and adequately within the bounds of the law, but they also need to be aware of the phenomena so as to be alert to its early warning signs within the school environment, whether an early childhood or a high school principal level.

It is my observation that while millions are spent annually on repairing the trauma in the aftermath of sexual bullying, rape, and physical and mental abuse on a child victim; we all would be better served if we instead focused our attention on the prevention of these occurrences from ever taking place at school, on the playground, or on our watch within the teacher/pupil learning environment.

What you need to know about sexual harassment among young children:

  • We can teach children as young as 5 years of age the tools to protect and prevent sexual harassment and abuse.
  • Sexual harassment and sexual bullying start in kindergarten and elementary school, with behaviors escalating into high school, both in frequency and type.
  • Sexual harassment among school children is a way of expressing and confirming social power dynamics within a child’s environmental understanding of racial or gender order.
  • Sexual harassment in education should be regarded as extremely serious and response and reporting of sexual harassment and abuse need to be managed according to a school’s code of conduct and reporting policies to protect both the learners and the educators.
  • School environments are the starting point and often the enabler of gender stereotypes, abuse, and violence which create both victims and perpetrators.
  • Behaviours are often ignored or dismissed by educators who are unaware of the greater issues at play or are unable or unwilling themselves to respond to discrimination and protect the dignity and respect afforded all learners.
  • Child Rights and educational facilities demand all children under the age of 18 be treated equally at school, free from sexual harassment, and that their dignity and integrity be protected, and their privacy upheld in a safe environment.

Safe Learning Environments are Created by:

  • Addressing child rights, sexual harassment, sexual bullying. and abuse in the school environment where effective policies are established and communicated to all educators and pupils in an age-appropriate and clear manner.
  • Putting policies and procedures, interventions, and training programs in place to combat and respond to the problem of sexual harassment and abuse. This the particular focus of my life’s work and research into sexual harassment in young children and I encourage all school principals, educators, and university heads to inform themselves about the educational teaching models of Voice of the Child Association available to you.
  • Clearly defining what is sexual harassment behavior across all cultural and religious understanding.
  • Creating user-friendly reporting procedures that enable the child, the parent, the teacher, and the school to facilitate the arising issues as effectively and democratically as possible.
  • Discuss and teach learners through additional programs, examples, and expertise about ways learners can protect themselves, promote dignity with others, and the protection afforded them by their child rights.
  • Make sure all parents, educators, and learners are aware of the reporting procedures in place, the effects and legal consequences of sexually abusive behaviors, and the support structures in place for traumatized victims.

Does your learning facility have a preventative program in place? Discover the Voice of the Child educational programs for Kindergarten, Elementary, and Grades 1 to 10, which give children the tools to protect themselves from sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and gender violence.