‘Not funny to talk about my body’

High alert: Schools should prioritise being a safe place for their students above all else, says Ratchel. – Filepic

“YOU don’t have proof he did any of that; no one is going to believe you.”

This was what I heard over and over again in my head after experiencing sexual harassment in school for the first time. I was certain that nobody would believe me or take any action if I reported the incident.

I was raised with the familiar saying “boys will be boys”. It seemed normal to see or hear of boys acting out.

At some point, catcalling became normalised, seen as “just what happens to girls”.

Sayings like “He didn’t even touch you!” and “That just means he likes you!” were also often used to excuse a boy’s inappropriate behaviour.

The sad thing is that these thoughts and sayings were already implanted in my young mind before I eventually experienced sexual harassment when I entered my teen years.

I won’t delve into the nitty-gritty, but essentially, a schoolmate started texting me inappropriate and suggestive things about my body.

I ignored it at first with the mindset of “boys will be boys” but the situation escalated, forcing me to report it to my school’s guidance counsellor.

This was my very first encounter with sexual harassment and it significantly affected my mental health, making me realise how serious sexual harassment really is and its profound effects.

I had been catcalled several times prior to this encounter, but I had always just ignored it since that was exactly what I was taught to do.

Even the thought of reporting that incident felt like I was “overreacting”, but I’m thankful I followed through because, in the end, it freed me.

It wasn’t easy to recover from that experience – I didn’t feel his punishment matched his offence and there were loads of social repercussions I had to deal with after the fact.

I was lucky because I had a great support system consisting of my close friends, teachers and parents to help me move on.

But sadly, this isn’t the reality for many victims of sexual harassment; numerous cases go unnoticed or even ignored, leaving the victims to “get over it” alone without guidance and support.

This experience made me realise that schools should prioritise being a safe place for their students above all else.

It’s no secret that we, as students, spend about a quarter of our teen years in school, so why should it be any less safe than our homes? This is the question we should be asking.

Schools should give more attention to correcting the behaviour of these transgressors in an attempt to prevent their inappropriate and problematic behaviour from persisting into the future.

We should also educate ourselves on this matter, as it’s easy to wrongly put the blame on the people experiencing it.

Together, we should all strive to be more compassionate and empathetic towards one another.

Ratchel, 16, a student in Selangor, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team. For updates on the BRATs programme, go to facebook.com/niebrats.

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BRATs , sexual harassment


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