When jokes fall flat on schoolgirl

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Photograph: Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas/Pexels

It was meant to be a useful physical and health education session that would have helped students appreciate their body rights and understand the dangers of sexual harassment until their teacher concerned cracked a few jokes about rape that veered towards lewdness.

That jolted the adolescent girls in the class, particularly Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam, who was said to be disturbed when the male teacher touched on the topic of laws protecting minors from sexual abuse and harassment.

He reportedly reminded the students in a Kuala Selangor school that if they wanted to rape someone, they ought to do it to those above 18 as the laws concerned do not apply to them. Put another way, it’s supposedly excusable to rape someone who is above 18.

This is normalising a vicious crime, which is obviously an abominable proposition, even though it was purportedly made in jest. Equally appalling is that the school counsellor allegedly took the jokes lightly when Ain made a complaint to him, saying that boys normally like such crude jokes.

Ain boldly took to social media after the incident to express her disgust over the matter. She also planned to complain to her school authorities.

Indeed, her boldness stood out to the extent that a rape threat was sent to her from one of her classmates soon after she made the revelation. A lesson apparently well learnt by the bully.

While such an incident is probably not widespread in other parts of the country, it should be cause for deep concern among schooling adolescent girls and boys, parents and teachers, as well as the Ministry of Education.

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At the very least, this case should be made an example to other teachers elsewhere who may have such vulgar inclinations in and outside of class.

This controversy erupted on the heels of reported menstruation spot checks on schoolgirls in a manner that violated their privacy, body rights and self-dignity –  which generally makes schools not a safe place to learn.

There may well be other schoolgirls – as well as boys – who have the confidence and assertiveness of 17-year-old Ain to confront what appears to be a class lesson that went astray. But there may be many others who are not bold enough to speak out against sexual harassment.

The lack of assertiveness may in part be due to the nature of formal education that is generally offered in our schools. It appears that too much emphasis has been given to rote learning with the ultimate aim of producing high achievers in terms of getting good grades – at the expense of critical thinking. Rote learning, it is said, can produce passive learners and submissive followers, not leaders, out of the many students.

School-going adolescents would also require knowledge about, say, patriarchy, their human rights, sex education, sexual harassment and critical thinking as a step towards becoming assertive and confident.

It would also help for schools to have a clearly stated sexual harassment policy so that students, especially adolescent girls, would know their rights and stand up for their rights when the occasion arises.

Here we are mindful of the need for the government to expedite the passing of the delayed Sexual Harassment Bill.

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The school should also ensure confidentiality to those who register complaints about sexual harassment and prohibit retaliation against the complainants.

In this way, sexually laced jokes will be taken seriously in schools. – The Malaysian Insight

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