Teen girls see sex assaults as ‘normal,’ educator says

Friday, February 22, 2008

A growing number of teenage girls view sexual harassment and even assault as “normal,” says a top Toronto school board official.
Gerry Connelly described the “new normal” phenomenon during her keynote address at the annual Safe Schools Conference in Toronto today.
“A young girl will see somebody being pushed against a locker and fondled inappropriately, or they are being touched inappropriately and they say: ‘Well that’s just the way it is,’” said Ms. Connelly, director of education at the Toronto District School Board.

“Well folks, that’s not acceptable, but our young girls are treating it like it is acceptable and we have to address that.”
The Toronto school safety report released last month found that “sexual assault and sexual harassment are prevalent in TDSB schools.”
According to a survey conducted at one North York high school, 33% of students surveyed reported being sexually harassed in the school over the past two years. Twenty-nine per cent reported being the victim of unwanted sexual contact, including touching or grabbing at their school, and 29 female students or 7% of respondents reported being the victim of a major sexual assault at their school.
Another report on sexual harassment at 23 Ontario schools by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health showed that 30% of Grade 9 girls and 28% of Grade 11 girls reported having been touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way.
The panel behind the school safety report, led by human rights lawyer Julian Falconer, said more must be done to encourage students to report all incidents of violence, and urged a sexual assault and gender-based violence prevention strategy at the TDSB.

Ms. Connelly said she was disturbed to learn that 80% of TDSB students said they would not talk to teachers or police about crimes they witnessed or experienced.
“Why? You’ve heard the expression: snitches get stitches,” she said told the audience, which included educators, social workers and police officers.
But students also worry that if they tell, their parents will forbid them from associating with certain peers or force them to switch schools, said Ms. Connelly. Many students do not trust police, she said.

Some schools have “safe rooms” where female students can talk freely about their feelings. But more must be done to create more welcoming environments that combat the “code of silence” that appears to be fostering gender-based violence directed at girls, said Ms. Connelly, who cited figures from the CAMH study and a TDSB survey that showed the troubling rate of sexual harassment and assault in schools.
For example, 21% of surveyed TDSB students said they knew at least one student who had been sexually assaulted at school over the past two years.
“It’s a phenomenon across Canada, and it’s a phenomenon that is not well researched or understood,” said Ms. Connelly.

Ontario’s education minister today announced a team of safety and education experts will examine the causes of sexual harassment, homophobia and gender-based violence and draw up recommendations to prevent the behaviours.
The Canadian Safe School Network, which put on the conference, is developing a program that addresses sexuality and unhealthy relationships among girls in Grades 6 to 10. Pauline Auty, a former guidance counselor who is part of the network, detailed some of the shocking revelations in focus groups across the province, including some from mothers as young as 12 and 13 years old. “We don’t know how to have a healthy relationship,” the girls told her. “We just know what feels good.” The children also distinguish between relationships between their friends and relationships between adults. “They think it’s OK for kids to sleep around, as long as they don’t tell (but they think) it’s not OK for adults,” said Ms. Auty.
source: The National Post