3:20 pm May 15, 2015 – Update
Hannah’s parents met this afternoon with the school superintendent, principal, and vice-principal. Nicola reports the school has apologized for the lack of urgency and communication; has pledged to arrange a restorative justice process, including parents, with professionals; and will institute new protocols for teachers around dealing with issues of a sexual nature. This sounds like a good first step on the way to some positive changes.
12:00 pm May 15, 2015 – This post has been updated at Nicola’s request to remove identifying information.
10 year-old Sexual Bullying Victim is Afraid to Return to School
Hannah loves going to school but now the Ontario fourth-grader is too scared to return, and her mother Nicola can’t blame her. On Monday, Hannah experienced the second of two incidents of bullying with a disturbingly sexual tone. A group of fourth-graders was approached at recess by four grade 7 students, and verbally harassed. One of the boys allegedly told Hannah that he was going to “shove a lollipop up her a**” and make her “suck [his] d***.”
Hannah’s mother spoke to the school principal, and although the boy admitted to the incident, as far as she knows no further action was taken by the school. As of Wednesday, Nicola’s calls to the superintendent and her school trustee have not been returned, and the principal did not respond to a request for comment for this post.
In frustration, Nicola wrote about the incident on her Facebook page, only to have a friend’s comment reported to the police as a threat. A police officer subsequently contacted Nicola and informed her they have determined there was no “malice” in the boy’s comment and they have cautioned him about his language.
In the earlier incident, a 10 year-old boy lifted Hannah’s skirt and touched her genitals during a soccer game. The school told Nicola this happened accidentally, and Hannah now blames herself for wearing a skirt.
As a child and youth counselor with 20 years’ experience advocating for other people’s children, Nicola says, “I never thought I would be in this position, feeling so helpless,” when it came to her own child. “I have a scared little girl who is refusing to return to school, and I support her decision.”
Nicola is adamant this is not about retribution or making an example of the boys involved. “It’s the bigger picture of the systemic problem that I need to be addressed.” The school has offered to assign a teacher to supervise Hannah at all times, but Nicola feels singling out her daughter does nothing to address the underlying problem. “I told [the principal] ‘You’ve created a culture where this behaviour is accepted, and that needs to change.’”
According to the Ontario Human Rights Code, sexual harassment includes “using rude or insulting language or making comments toward girls and women” and “bullying based on sex or gender,” and education providers have a legal duty to prevent and respond to such behaviour.
Sexual harassment, in person and online, is a serious issue in today’s schools. Students who experience sexual bullying can face depression, anxiety; they may stop taking part in school activities or going to school altogether, as Hannah has; and they may contemplate or complete suicide. We have seen the impact of this kind of bullying time and time again in tragedies such as the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons.
The perpetrators of sexual harassment are also affected by their own behaviour. When CityTV News’ Shauna Hunt was verbally harassed by men shouting gender-based obscenities at a Toronto FC match, she took action. One of the men has since been fired by his employer, and several may face criminal charges. Hannah’s mother points to this incident as an example of the potential consequences of the students involved not being held accountable for their behaviour at a young age.
The 2015 Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum taking effect in September will address gender and sex-based bullying and cyber-bullying starting in grade 4. To prevent sexual harassment, children need to understand that it is no laughing matter. The new curriculum will teach them about their rights and responsibilities, how to recognize abusive language and situations, and how to respond if someone is being harassed.
For now, all Nicola wants is for her daughter to feel safe at school again.
What would you do if you were in Nicola’s situation? What about as the parent of the perpetrator?
Have you ever been in a similar situation?
Although I can certainly understand Hannah wanting to stay home, by doing so she is allowing herself to continue to be a victim. There is no easy or efficient answer as to how to stop bullying but hiding is not one of the approaches that should be chosen. Bullies are bred in the home and the young man who behaved in this manner has most likely been taught this behaviour from a very early age. The fact that there is no mention of his parents siding with Nicola and demanding the removal of the principal from her current position speaks to this. His parents are most likely sheltering him and by doing so are enabling him from taking responsibility for his despicable actions. The article says Hannah was touched in an earlier incident. This is assault. The boy should be charged and brought before the courts to learn first hand what his future holds should he continue to believe he has done nothing wrong and intended no malice. It seems everyone, from the boys parents to the principal to the superintendent to the school trustee to the police, are not taking advantage of a very valuable learning opportunity for not only this young man but his friends as well, by suspending him from school under Conduct Unbecoming … If this is the boys first offence he has certainly learned how to get away with it. Hannah, surround yourself with your friends and their friends and their friends friends and return to school with your head high. You have done nothing wrong. Every girl in this school, every parent of every child in this school should march and demand an administrator who they are confident will protect their children from every form of bullying.
Thank you for your kind and empowering words – Hannah and her family have been blown away by the support. The school has now taken steps towards a much more positive resolution which hopefully will mean this kind of situation will not be allowed to get this far again!
” no further action was taken by the school” !!!! Like this , boy has certainly learned how to get away with it and he will do it again and again and again and the poor girl will stay at home , in isolation . We reward bullies and punish the victims ! Usually the real sources of bulling is at home, not school. I would request to meet boys parents and insist that boy gets suspend from the school.
There is often an influence at home – either bullying or unawareness. Thankfully Nicola reports the school is now taking positive steps, including a restorative justice process involving all of the parents – hopefully that will mean real change! The family is really grateful for the public support – thank you!
If the child’s mother has been unable to do anything about this how will teaching the sex curriculum empower a 4th grader to respond to such behaviour ? She will just be ignored by those who teach her.
The curriculum is a step towards changing the culture. It’s not just about the individual child. Those boys would learn that it was not acceptable. Other students would be empowered to step in or speak up.
Why was the police not contacted? Sexual bullying??? Call it what it is: sexual assault. And that is a criminal offence. Charge those little criminals and step up to the plate…make a statement!!!
My bad, I re-read the article…the cops did nothing about it. What about the first incident of touching? That is a chargeable criminal act. Let the boy find out what the consequences to his actions are…call the cops on that charge. He may be found innocent for lack of proof but at least the little criminal understands SOMEONE will ALWAYS call out for help.
Hannah’s family is so grateful for all the support – it’s made a real difference for Hannah to know that so many people believe her and know that it’s not her fault. The school is now taking some positive steps so hopefully that will lead to real change.
Instead of assigning someone to supervise the victim they should supervise the boy. Doubtful she is the only one he has done this too.
Absolutely – singling out the victim is not the answer! The school has now apologized and pledged to make some positive steps, and Hannah and her family are so grateful for the support – thank you!
If the mother was unsuccessful to get the teachers to do anything about it, I would most definitely not put my child back into the situation that she is not mature enough to handle. Adults already failed her. I would not force her to face her bullies and her fears until she can be sure that she will be heard and helped.
My sons come home from school with language they never heard at home and they don’t understand. I am appalled that according to the kids almost every boy talks like that during recess and supervising teachers hear it yet do nothing about it. I crack down on this kind of language, this is the first step but I will take my sons out of school and homeschool again if this is what they are learning in school. Sex ed or not, I did not send my kids to school to learn trashy language and everything there is to know about sex. This mom needs to be on the principal’s back until they suspend that boy from school. He really needs to learn a lesson he has not learned yet. This behaviour is not acceptable from him and the response from the school is also unacceptable.
You’re absolutely right about the language – I think a big part of the issue is these kids hear this language and don’t understand it, but they know it gets a reaction. They need to learn that these words mean real things and are not appropriate to use against people. It’s sexual violence, whether they’re doing the act or just saying it.
I have three grown daughters who were all bullied at some point but nothing like this, at least I never heard about it.
This sort of behaviour would never be tolerated if it was perpetrated by adults in the workplace, why should it be brushed off just because it involves children at school?
I would have threatened to go to the police when the little jerk threatened her with sodomy and forced fellatio and depending on the reaction of the school, I probably would have filed a report. If the police refused to do anything I would threaten to sue the parents of the little jerks and the school for not protecting my child while under their supervision.
Thankfully I have never been in such situation. But this is so unfortunate and sad at so many levels. The ultimate truth is only the perpetrator’s parents can do something useful about it. And this actually goes for all the parents, especially parents with boys. We need to teach our children, our boys how to respect others. This is not an immediate solution, but this is something we often miss due to lack of time, shyness or just carelessness.