NGO: Study showed 80% of sexual harassment, bullying cases involved teachers, school authorities

PETALING JAYA: Almost 80% of sexual harassment and bullying cases in educational institutes involved educators and school authorities, says the All Women's Action Society (Awam).

The NGO conducted a study recently, where it collected and analysed 275 testimonials shared by survivors who approached them via social media and WhatsApp.

While the NGO applauded the ministry's first step toward its commitment of zero-tolerance toward rape jokes with the transfer of a teacher in Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam’s class, it reiterated that it was only one incident in a systemic culture of sexual harassment and bullying in educational institutions in Malaysia.

"In an effort to more comprehensively understand how pervasive this phenomenon is, we have collected and analysed 275 testimonials, of which 269 of them were shared with us by two social media influencers, and six directly by survivors who approached us via WhatsApp and Instagram," it said in the statement on Tuesday (May 18).

It added that its analysis showed that 125 cases involved period spot checks, 108 were bullying and 88 involved sexual harassment, adding that many survivors experienced more than one form of violation.

It said 91.6% of survivors were women and girls. Men and boys constituted 6.2%.

"A total of 108 survivors revealed their ages when they were sexually harassed/bullied. Among them, 99 (91.6%) of them were children.

"The age subgroup of 13 to 15 years old, when students (especially girls) experience pubertal changes, was found to be the stage when sexual harassment and bullying were most prevalent among survivors," the NGO said.

It added that predominant sites of sexual harassment and bullying were primary, secondary and boarding schools, having 51,58 and 55 cases respectively.

It also said that violations also occurred in colleges, daycare centres and school camps, though much fewer in the number of cases.

"Perpetrators were predominantly figures of authority.”

It also said that out of 311 perpetrators, 247 of them (79.4%) were teachers, religious teachers and wardens.

The NGO said whilst there were student perpetrators such as prefects and senior students, in especially cases of period spot checks, these violations were committed in the context of a normalised practice that was openly sanctioned and enforced by teachers and religious teachers.

It added that the period spot check testimonials provided specific details about the nature of violations involved, where stripping and showing pads to figures of authority had the highest count (30 reports), followed by groping (23) and cotton bud/tissue swabs (21).

"Though much fewer in number, sexual harassment and bullying of male survivors are no less devastating while cases of bullying included public humiliation, being slapped and punched, as well as racial bullying.

"Sexual harassment violations include pinching nipples, groping of private parts and being stripped by figures of authority to check for signs of puberty," it said.

Awam said it is crucial that the Education Ministry swiftly prioritise and implement long-term solutions to ensure that educational institutions in Malaysia become safe spaces where sexual harassment and bullying would not be norms.

Among the solutions it suggested were working with relevant civil society organisations to implement gender sensitisation training among school authorities nationally, and establish a working relationship with the Board of Counsellors of Malaysia (Lembaga Kaunselor Malaysia) to provide the necessary support for teachers, who are school counsellors.

It also called for the revision of curriculum in teachers training colleges to include topics on gender awareness and sensitivity.

This is to ensure that future generations of teachers and educators do not perpetuate rape and sexual harassment culture.

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