When Schools Don’t Protect Our Girls: Is Self-Defense an Option?

3 Mar, 2015

In my feed this week was a story about a 15-year-old boy who snaps a classmate’s bra repeatedly and won’t stop when she tells him to. Her teacher takes no action when she reports the incident and the boy finally snaps her bra hard enough for it to come undone. She punches him twice in the face and then he stops. She’s in trouble with school administrators and he’s not. Her mom questions that outcome and puts the school on the hot seat for failing to protect her daughter from sexual assault.

What’s your perspective? Do you relate to the person who was the target of harassment? Are you concerned about a fair consequence for her aggressor and/or for her? What about the school administrators who may have to apply a “zero tolerance” policy? What would support her healing, what supports him to learn from this mistake and not do it again?

Events like this happen every day. Someone is sexually aggressive and the adults treat it like a “boys will be boys” story or say “they are just kids”. Someone is the target of ongoing bullying and the adults tell the victim to ignore it. Adults remain passive or indifferent on the sidelines and don’t see the pain or harm done. Or perhaps, they feel helpless themselves to intervene successfully.

The right to self-defense, a legally protected right, is not as easy to access as one would think or hope. More so if the target of violence belongs to an oppressed group in our society. What if the victim was a transgender teen? A person with mental illness? Or a person of color?

No one wants to condone violence and children are taught to walk away from mean words and behavior. The best “fight” is no “fight.” Parents of victims are left to wonder what their child is supposed to do if the aggressor won’t stop and the teacher won’t take it seriously and help. At this school and others, I guess the answer is that girls should just take it and stay quiet.

On the other hand, comments on the article are overwhelmingly in favor of the mom and support her daughter’s use of physical self-defense to end the assault.

I have a few questions.

  1. When is a sexual assault serious enough that teachers and adminstrators would support a person’s right to physical self-defense? If bra-snapping isn’t the line, what is? Why isn’t sexual assault seen as violence?
  2. Why did a15 year-old boy think that sexually assaulting his classmate was fun, or funny? Who else, besides the teacher, failed to see the seriousness of these actions? Were classmates upset or were they watching and laughing?
  3. Did adults admonish the student who punched her aggressor’s face because they thought the response was disproportionate to him snapping her bra hard enough to have it come undone? If so, would they have been ok with her snapping his jockstrap or giving him a wedgie instead?
  4. Were school administrators uncomfortable because a girl “bested” a boy and they were worried that his ego had taken a hit? Is that a more serious harm than the trauma of sexual assault was for her? Did they empathize with his pain/shame/humiliation more than hers?
  5. Was the teacher’s opinion that it was something to be ignored more important than the student’s plea for help? Isn’t she her own authority on how other people get to touch her?

What are you wondering?

Karen

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