Sexual harassment and rape in school milieu

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Posted March 19, 2018 from Cameroon

“Obedience before complain” is a doctrine within my community used to emphasize the importance of respect. This doctrine has greatly been used as a weapon to silence many victims in cause of abuse where the abuser is in a position of power.

Discussing with my peers about our school days a few months ago, we touched the issue of discipline which was really hard and our school greatly celebrated for its “high standard” of discipline. This landed us in to examining our teachers and rating their level of discipline and congratulating them on how well they molded us in to who we are today. There was this head of our school who was practically leading in the rating exercise that if we were to give an award of excellence it will be undeniably him first.

Just in the middle of this joyous conversation, one of us decided to break the silence. She asked “are you planning to reward Mr X for the fact that he took away my virginity in his office at the age of 14 or the four crude abortions I had for him which has left me barren?” This came as a bomb explosion. The group chat went dead for a while. I couldn’t believe what I just heard about a man we knew as very strict and a great disciplinarian.

As if a balloon full of pressure just exploded many other female classmates started telling their experience of sexual harassment and eventual multiple rape instances from this same teacher and many other male teachers. After listening to the different tales recounted I could now make sense of the slangs of one of my teachers who used to say “ sally you are not a big girl” “you are selfish” “is it that you understand my lessons so well that you can’t pass by my house for me to give you extra lessons?” “you talk too and can’t keep a secret” and many more. I now understood his intention was to make me guilty so that he can have his way. The pain shared by these girls made it obvious that we were vulnerable. It equally highlighted the wickedness of the teachers whom we considered as role models. Regrettably, our parents trust this group of persons more than us their children which made any attempt to speak up useless since nobody will believe you.

This incident only came to confirm the fact that rape and sexual abuse in general in the school milieu is an evil that society is yet to identify especially in a developing country like Cameroon where child’s rights are yet to be understood and respected by many. I quickly remembered a little student in form one who came to my office and reported a teacher who took her to nearby bush during school hours and tried to violate her. Although I went against my principle by just telling the teacher to apologise to the child, other administrators blamed me for “belittling” a teacher in front of a “mere” student. What really frustrated me was the role the father of this little girl played. The father being a law enforcement officer takes up the teacher and tries to extort money without passing through my office to get the details of what happened. At the end envelopes changed hands and the matter died.

These two scenarios have been haunting my spirit and I can’t seem to rest. I need answers to the following questions: how can I break this culture of silence within the school milieu on issues of sexual harassment and abuse? How do I help the students to know their rights so that the “doctrine of obedience before complain” will not apply? How do I bring in parents to know the crucial role they have to play in protecting their children from sexual abuse?  I have got the answer which is to carry out a massive sensitization of students, teachers, parents and law enforcement authorities to take the challenge of making our schools and society as a whole a safe space for all.

I envision a school setting wherein power relations do not fan sexual harassment but rather harness real discipline, mentorship and role modeling to help children especially girls reach their full potentials.

“Obedience before complain” is a doctrine within my community used to emphasize the importance of respect. This doctrine has greatly been used as a weapon to silence many victims in cause of abuse where the abuser is in a position of power.

Discussing with my peers about our school days a few months ago, we touched the issue of discipline which was really hard and our school greatly celebrated for its “high standard” of discipline. This landed us in to examining our teachers and rating their level of discipline and congratulating them on how well they molded us in to who we are today. There was this head of our school who was practically leading in the rating exercise that if we were to give an award of excellence it will be undeniably him first.

Just in the middle of this joyous conversation, one of us decided to break the silence. She asked “are you planning to reward Mr X for the fact that he took away my virginity in his office at the age of 14 or the four crude abortions I had for him which has left me barren?” This came as a bomb explosion. The group chat went dead for a while. I couldn’t believe what I just heard about a man we knew as very strict and a great disciplinarian.

As if a balloon full of pressure just exploded many other female classmates started telling their experience of sexual harassment and eventual multiple rape instances from this same teacher and many other male teachers. After listening to the different tales recounted I could now make sense of the slangs of one of my teachers who used to say “ sally you are not a big girl” “you are selfish” “is it that you understand my lessons so well that you can’t pass by my house for me to give you extra lessons?” “you talk too and can’t keep a secret” and many more. I now understood his intention was to make me guilty so that he can have his way. The pain shared by these girls made it obvious that we were vulnerable. It equally highlighted the wickedness of the teachers whom we considered as role models. Regrettably, our parents trust this group of persons more than us their children which made any attempt to speak up useless since nobody will believe you.

This incident only came to confirm the fact that rape and sexual abuse in general in the school milieu is an evil that society is yet to identify especially in a developing country like Cameroon where child’s rights are yet to be understood and respected by many. I quickly remembered a little student in form one who came to my office and reported a teacher who took her to nearby bush during school hours and tried to violate her. Although I went against my principle by just telling the teacher to apologise to the child, other administrators blamed me for “belittling” a teacher in front of a “mere” student. What really frustrated me was the role the father of this little girl played. The father being a law enforcement officer takes up the teacher and tries to extort money without passing through my office to get the details of what happened. At the end envelopes changed hands and the matter died.

These two scenarios have been haunting my spirit and I can’t seem to rest. I need answers to the following questions: how can I break this culture of silence within the school milieu on issues of sexual harassment and abuse? How do I help the students to know their rights so that the “doctrine of obedience before complain” will not apply? How do I bring in parents to know the crucial role they have to play in protecting their children from sexual abuse?  I have got the answer which is to carry out a massive sensitization of students, teachers, parents and law enforcement authorities to take the challenge of making our schools and society as a whole a safe space for all.

I envision a school setting wherein power relations do not fan sexual harassment but rather harness real discipline, mentorship and role modeling to help children especially girls reach their full potentials.

Comments 9

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Hellen Kimanzi
Mar 19, 2018
Mar 19, 2018

Hello dear Sally...
As i read through your story i could clearly relate to so many girls in my village who dropped out of school because they were abused by their teachers but they didn't speak it out. It is commendable on the actions you have decided to take to sensitize your community on this issue. Great work.
#TogetherToEndGBV

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Mar 20, 2018
Mar 20, 2018

Thank you my sister for passing by. I am sure one day many will be free to speak up for this is a societal evil worth eliminating

Jill Langhus
Mar 21, 2018
Mar 21, 2018

Hi Sally:) How are you doing today? I hope you and your family are safe and well:) It's too bad that these two events are haunting you. Please forgive yourself first. You did the best you could at the time, and there is always the future where you can make different decisions. I know you have a pure heart and you always mean well. Please don't let it plague you any longer. I know you will do everything in your power to help empower girls and women in the future. Aren't you already helping students to know their rights? Have you thought about starting a new school where girls would be safe and know their rights? Where you can talk freely to parents about the importance of listening to and protecting their children? Like Sister Zeph? I know you have a plan and that you will be divinely guided to carry it out. Let me know if you need any additional love, support, encouragement... I'm here for you...always:-)

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Mar 20, 2018
Mar 20, 2018

Hi Jill thank you for always encouraging me. I have been working on sexual rights and empowering girls probably reason why the little girl in my school reported to me. I find the effort put in so far not adequate to address this societal evil which needs full collaboration and participation of various stakeholders for it to be eradicated. I dream of a cross sectoral awareness and engagement solution

Jill Langhus
Mar 21, 2018
Mar 21, 2018

You're very welcome:-) Yes, it sounds like it. That's why you're there:-) Keep focusing on your dream... it will happen!

Ann Forsthoefel
Mar 20, 2018
Mar 20, 2018

Dear Sally,

I admire your strength and determination it is inspiring to all us. And everything you do is making a difference do not give up. With your energy and determination and the support of your community all girls will reach their potential!

My deepest respect,
Ann

Sally maforchi Mboumien
Mar 20, 2018
Mar 20, 2018

My dearest sister Ann these words of encouragement means a lot to me. Thank you all for the support that has taken me this far. I hold on to this passion of having a social clinic services which help empower girls and protect them against these societal ills. Then I will be satisfied!!!!!

Tamarack Verrall
Apr 08, 2018
Apr 08, 2018

Dear Sally,

What a monumental breakthrough that this highly regarded teacher has been shown for what he was doing secretly. And what a tough and shocking position you were in by that sudden openness of the young student. When we are seen as strong women, as you were even early on in your life, comments like "you can't keep a secret" are meant to silence us. We are now at a watershed moment as women who have never spoken out are finally emboldened by knowing they will not be alone. Your plans for a massive sensitization are just what is needed, and you, fierce and beautiful leader will be met with resistance but mostly with gratitude and women stepping forward.

Much love,
Tam

Adanna
Feb 13
Feb 13

Dear Sally,
Wow! You captured a lot of "evil things" that are being used to silence girls and women especially this part where you said "“Obedience before complain” is a doctrine within my community used to emphasize the importance of respect. This doctrine has greatly been used as a weapon to silence many victims in cause of abuse where the abuser is in a position of power."

Thank you for sharing sis and well done for all you do. :)

Love,
Adanna