How Do We Guard Against Sexual Molestation In Schools?

The media is awash with sordid tales of rape, abuse, and harassment of pupils in both primary and secondary schools. One of the most popular cases was that of 11- year old boy allegedly molested by fellow students at Deeper Life High School, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The center where the boy was taken for medical examination said it had treated ten sexually abused boys in the last three years.

Two years ago, a teacher at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) School for the Blind, Abuja, was suspended indefinitely for habitually raping two visually impaired students. Reports said the teacher drugged the students and lured them to a hotel before perpetrating the dastardly act. Also, in February last year, Ekiti State Government dismissed three public secondary school teachers for sexually harassing their female students. The State Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM) said the board dismissed the erring teachers for sexual molestation and bringing the state into disrepute.

Earlier, Rivers State Senior Secondary Schools Board also suspended the principal of Comprehensive Secondary School, Ngo, for having carnal knowledge of a 17- year- old female student of the school. Similarly, in Katsina State, the state police command arraigned Hamisu Galadima, an alleged randy primary school teacher, before a senior magistrate court for having carnal knowledge of teenage girls in the Faskari council of the state. The police prosecutor, ASP Hashimu Musa, said the suspect was picked up following complaints by the victims’ parents.

But the situation is not limited to basic and secondary schools alone; recently, in Bayelsa State, the first female first–class law graduate of Niger Delta University Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa State, Ebizi Eradiri, claimed that some randy lecturers almost scuttled her ambition of making first class.

Eradiri, who reported the same first-class feat at the Nigerian Law School during a homecoming reception, said the lowest grade she had during her university days was a ‘c,’ which was awarded to her by a lecturer who insisted on having sexual intercourse with her.

Also, in March this year, a lecturer in the Department of Business Management at Covenant University, Ota, Dr. Stephen Ukenna, was apprehended by the police in Ogun State for forcefully having carnal knowledge of a 17-year-old student of the school. The 41-year-old lecturer was arrested following complaints by the parents of the victim that their daughter was molested by one of her lecturers in his office.

Having taken you through the memory lane of several sex molestation cases in Nigeria, I would like to define what sexual molestation is. Sexual molestation can be defined as any willful and lewd or lascivious act, other than acts constituting the crime of sexual assault, upon or with the body, or any part or member thereof, of a child or young adult with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions or sexual desires of the perpetrator or the child or young adult.

Molestation is a catch-all term for any unsolicited sexual acts and indecent assault such as groping, unwanted fondling, touching someone in their private areas, petting and kissing, stimulating someone sexually, and so on. There are different forms of assault. You can be assaulted by a fellow student, a teacher, a professor, a coach, staff, or a faculty member. Some people may wonder what causes sexual molestation in schools. Various factors contribute to inappropriate behavior. Those who show hyper-masculinity, a lack of empathy, and violence are more likely to engage in sexual misconduct at school. Also, students who get exposed to sexually explicit material have a higher chance of assaulting or harassing a fellow student. Drugs and alcohol are risk factors as well.

Furthermore, areas that lack proper police and judicial support have higher rates of sexual molestation in schools. On a societal level, the normalization of sexual violence and entitlement can contribute to this type of misconduct. Social media has also played a part in the widespread issue. The rise of social media sites like Facebook has allowed teachers to prey on students after school hours. Teachers can maintain inappropriate relationships with students through direct messages with a decreased risk of getting caught.

Indecent dressings of female students in schools have also contributed to this act of misconduct. This type of misconduct starts in elementary school and can happen in universities. Students’ limited awareness of sexual assault, background, poverty, and threat from lecturers has also contributed to assault in universities. Additionally, the culture of silence among students and university management contributes to sexual molestation in schools. Students are unwilling to openly discuss assault issues for fear of being pursued and victimized again. 

Some school authorities keep silent about reporting cases of sexual assault in order not to harm their staff’s reputation and give the school a bad name. Sexual molestation has negative impacts on the physical, social and mental health of the victim. Some of the consequences include reproductive health problems like unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, all forms of injuries, depression, anxiety, social isolation, loss of self-esteem, distrust of others, substance abuse, post-traumatic disorder, disability, low academic performance, school dropout, stigma, and even death. Now to ways in which we can guard against sexual molestation in schools include;  

First, parents are encouraged to have talks with their children about sexual assault in school. This discussion will need to be about healthy sexual development. Children and teens need to know the difference between touching that is not okay. Parents should make sure that their kids know that they can say ‘No’ to any touching they don’t want and that it is always okay to tell a trusted adult about a touch that is not okay instead of dying in silence. The child, in turn, should not hide anything from his or her parent, including the one that has to do with someone touching or wanting to give him or her an un-okay touch. Parents should educate their female children on how to dress decently. When the child is taught all of this, the child will have a lower risk of being sexually molested or molesting others.

Secondly, school administrators must ensure that they keep an open door policy to listen to children, should they have a teacher report for behaving inappropriately to them. To encourage students to speak out about assault, Students must be made to understand that they should speak out when touched inappropriately. Students should always be encouraged to speak out once they notice such among their classmates. They should also be educated about their rights to learn in an environment free from sexual molestation, and where such rights are infringed upon, schools must ensure that there are channels for students to air their grievances.

There should be a constituted body or control commission comprising elected student representatives and staff unions where victims can report cases of sexual molestation without fear of victimization. The best way to guarantee protection for students is to ensure that those apprehended are dealt with timely and firmly. Once the randy folks become aware that they cannot get away with such atrocities, especially having seen the scapegoat, they would be deterred.  

In addition, grade schools and secondary schools can guard against sexual molestation by improving their hiring process. There are screening tools available to identify high-risk candidates. Employers should review a potential teacher’s employment history. Schools should conduct due diligence on teachers before employing them so that if they have a history of being sexual offenders, they won’t be employed. Schools can adopt prevention programs to combat sexual molestation. These programs will help teach students how to recognize and report sexual misconduct. They should offer students safety when they report sexual molestation.

Furthermore, to encourage students to speak, there must be a reasonable assurance that they will get justice. This can be assured if there is a massive campaign on how to get and preserve evidence. Female students must be taught how to use their phones to collect watertight evidence. They should know how to record randy lecturer’s threats and intimidation and possibly take video evidence when they are cornered in a trap set up.

More so, schools should take steps to provide students with the care and support they need. Schools need to believe survivors when they find the courage to speak up. They must act swiftly to hold perpetrators accountable and provide emotional, academic, and trauma-informed support to survivors. Schools must start mandating training for school employees to educate them on how to respond appropriately to allegations of sexual molestation. One option can model staff training with something akin to comprehensive sex education, rooted in a curriculum that is thoughtful and deliberate, inclusive of the idea of gender equality, consent, power dynamics, and healthy relationships. Counseling measures should be enhanced to check the negative psychological effects of student sexual assault, such as negative school social behavior. Students who are victims of sexual abuse should be encouraged to remain in school.

Finally, if a student is unable to talk to a parent or teacher, they can seek a sexual assault hotline. These hotlines are dedicated to helping victims and survivors while remaining confidential. They provide information on local resources and can point someone to the right healthcare facility. I strongly believe that if the above-mentioned ways are followed, there would be a reduction in sexual molestation in schools.

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