Time for some plain talk about sexual violence in our schools

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
February 19, 2018 - 6:59am Updated: February 19, 2018 - 4:54pm

KAMLOOPS — If we’re going to have a serious discussion about sexual violence in our schools, let’s be crystal clear what we’re talking about.

A report on the subject from administration that will be presented to School District 73 trustees tonight raises very serious concerns about sexual harassment in public schools but is fuzzy about the extent or definition of the problem.

This is too big an issue to be overly polite in how we discuss it.

The report from superintendent Alison Sidow proposes a “Superintendent’s Task Force on School Safety.”

It makes reference to recent reports that schools in the district ”failed to protect students from sexual harassment and assault, discrimination and intimidation.”

Sidow explains that the complaints are still under investigation and therefore can’t be elaborated upon. Fair enough.

The report seems to suggest other types of violence in schools will also be studied, but clearly sexual harassment is the big concern right now.

There are, writes Sidow, “cultural drivers at work that may inhibit our ability to respond effectively to sexual violence against women and girls.”

By cultural drivers, does the report intend to refer to “rape culture,” the normalization of sexual abuse?

If that’s the case, let’s call it what it is.

We’re all familiar with rape culture issues on university campuses. Thompson Rivers University undertook a revamping of its policies on the matter a couple of years ago and wraps up an input review next week.

In fact, universities are under orders from the provincial government to develop strong sexual-misconduct policies.

But our high schools aren’t immune. The Kamloops district certainly isn’t the first to be accused of not dealing with the issue effectively.

A study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that almost half of Canadian female high school students were subjected to sexual comments or gestures, a third were touched inappropriately, and seven per cent suffered a major sexual assault.

It’s time for some frank public discussion. Hopefully, the SD73 task force will lead the way.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.

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