Educational institutions should respond to reports of sexual assault and misconduct promptly and transparently. I have included a small portion of the notice which I am sure all students and staff received at the school where I am pursuing a master’s in educational counseling psychology.
Notice that my school issued a robust statement the same day that the report came in, with good detail concerning the little information they had about the concern. This is not an isolated case. My school handles such concerns in a uniform and robust way. Just being a student here began with layers of training concerning sexual safety and misconduct, abuse report response, and trauma informed care. Many of the messages I receive as a student contain a clause at the bottom indicating the message is not to be shared outside the school. Not these safety alerts, however.
Alerting the community with current and detailed information of relevance allows students to seek protection and avoids the sense that the institution is hiding important safety information, produces a sense of safety in the community and serves to deter criminal behavior because of the sense that the community is aware, is watching and is responsive to all issues of concern. My feeling is all communities are vulnerable to possible sexual predation. Our most vulnerable community members are only as safe as their community is responsive and transparent.
So some international friends came together today to pray and share over the internet from different parts of the world (no pictures – not sure if everybody is happy to have their pic taken and shared). I decorated a shirt for myself for the occasion as I thought about meditative presence- being with people and honoring the quietude and beauty of just taking others in and listening in a caring way. For the shirt- I used bleach on a black T-shirt. I painted the words “Don’t just do something, sit there.” This wasn’t a phrase I came up with – I heard it on the incomparable Shrinkrap Radio podcast, episode 760.
We were off to a clumsy start because (as I often do for some reason) I got the time wrong, and being that I was the technology host- I was unprepared to start and people couldn’t even get in at first. But – as Bob Ross says- we don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents. We are flawed and that is beautiful. You know why adobe structures are more beautiful than engineered ones? Maybe part of it is – there are irregularities and bumps and crevasses and such – shadows of a flawed (if we must call them flawed) surface. This is why we love them. I can say I admire my friends and family for their virtues and capabilities – but honestly – crazy as it may seem, I “love them” so much in their vulnerability, their imperfections, their weaknesses and even (especially) in their ‘cringe’ moments. Because that’s the place where we hold and support and carry and “know” each other in a compassionate kind of state. Right? We don’t really like to share our flaws with people who don’t love us or who we don’t trust – isn’t that so? And those we are close to- we can’t hide these from them can we? There it is – the ‘happy accidents’ Bob Ross speaks of.
Anyway – not sure what this post is about – but I just want to record how much I LOVED to see the friends who came together today – a few of whom I hadn’t met before and how much some others are in my heart and who I hope to hear from again soon.
“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor. “ -Truman Capote
Day before yesterday I had a much needed, prayer time and jog in the morning. Really opened me up – I felt better. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to really do that. The thought that came to mind then which lifted me up higher at the end was that defeat furnishes a rich education (and other things as well) in the end whereas victory can provide very little of it. When we see a crushing defeat in life, we can consider how the victorious bad-actors in the world may continue to grope around in darkness while the sufferer of defeat may actually in the long run accrue incredible wisdom and compassion, patience etc. if she or he is game for it. There is solace and hope in this thought.
On a wild hair I started watching Terminator 2 of all things last night – on 1.5 speed, just sort of cruising through it, skipping some parts. This scene captivated me some how. It’s touching and sad and makes me think of young people who have been abused or neglected, or of parents (myself included) when we are at our worst moments and the road to healing and reconciliation after that – striving for the ideal of being worthy of the love we feel for our family. At my age – I am not quite as in to ‘sentimental’ movies as I once was, nor am I into ‘action movies’ as much as when I was a teenager. But there are profound sentiments some times just tucked in a movie that might be mostly a junk-food film or just part of a totally different genre that really can get my attention some times. Here this moment probes something about father-hood in a very imaginative way but still- it hits hard. I’m visiting my father today – maybe that’s what’s got me pensive.
Honestly, Layla is one of the most remarkable young people Sunray and I have ever known – I mean just a fantastic human who Sunray and I just admire and adore. She has so much to give and to accomplish. But she and her mother really need some support. She has loads of character, is extremely hard working, is bright, full of love and discipline and has a deep heart. I can’t say enough about her. For a variety of reasons, she has a strong need to change schools at this time. Please consider making at least a small donation to what I can vouch, is a most worthy cause which will be most appreciated by Layla and her long-suffering wonderful mother – one of my and Sunray’s closest friends. This beautiful family is worthy of your support and I have no doubt- Layla will not only succeed in life with you help, but she will labor to bring her dedication, sharp intellect, character and heart into arenas of service to the world of humanity throughout her life. In this sense, yours will have become a part of a ‘gift that keeps on giving’.
This morning after waking from a strange dream I saw the following posted on facebook:
It prompted me to leave the following comment about the dream I had:
I have been dealing with some heavy emotions from a difficult year. It’s funny – last night I dreamed that I was a heavy set, middle aged woman who carried around with her all of her disassembled body parts (all of them – I mean, her head, her torso- everything) in a clear gel-plastic bag – like the ones they sell quilts in. It didn’t occur to me until I woke up – how can she carry her body parts when all of her is actually in the bag? But in the dream that’s what she was doing. And it didn’t seem like there were duplicate body parts but you know- dream logic. Anyway – she sat down and started to pull the parts out of the bag and assemble herself. I noticed that some parts were bloated, other parts were emaciated. And it felt really satisfying to see the whole come together and she/I would suck in with a kind of muscular effort to distribute the mass around to correct the skinny and fat parts so that they were evenly distributed. This was a slow and satisfying process. I remember my waking thought was “hey, pull yourself together!” and this made me smile as I woke up. I was very surprised to read such a similar message on Facebook. The universe can be spooky that way!
Art like this communicates and helps the healing process. The light this candid, inspired and powerful expression shines will continue to make the world a safer place by helping others to be alert to the existence of the sexual abuse in communities. One part that really hits me hard as a man is the strong, bold phrase in purple “NOT ALL MEN”
After Townshend’s victims have been neglected and misstreated, they may wish to take their allegations to everyonesinvited.uk where “victims can post anonymous accounts of abuse they have suffered.” Many girls at Townshend still have an un-realized right to safety, justice and to acknowledgement so that they may heal. The world should know.
Allegations of sexual abuse made by school pupils on a website are “shocking and abhorrent”, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said.
A friend of from Townshend International School community sent me the above article highlighting how allegations may be responded to in a school setting. It’s an interesting read with important implications relevant to our experience over the past year working at Townshend, where adult sexual misconduct allegations are minimized and whistleblowers shamed- putting students at risk and harming victims by making them effectively invisible, stifling their voice, and impeding their healing. Male students are also not unaffected. They are at risk of dangerously stifled development and harmful moral education in an environment which encourages students to look the other way and “move foreward” or are advised “don’t be so negative” weather or not victims have been justly treated or afforded safety or even acknowledgement and affirmation of their experiences. One Townsend mother to a boy in the dorms tearfully stated in a parent zoom meeting “I want my son to be brought up to believe believe victims”.
So far among victims and other members of the community we have endured multiple accounts of suicidal ideation as well as hospitalization; a wide-spread loss of the ability to trust adults, institutions and/or religion and an atrociously large number community members essentially fleeing- including the resignation of a large proportion of school staff often citing ethical grounds and/or massive safeguarding concerns. It’s a large tole for something that either didn’t happen or wasn’t that bad.
The BBC article chronicles a growing awareness of, and maturing response to sexual abuse in academic environments in the midst of outcry from vulnerable students who feel unsafe in their schools and who have turned to the streets for recognition and support.
No school should be a place “where young people feel unsafe” or where abuse could take place,
SIC | Education Secretary Gavin Williamson
The article points to an online initiative “where victims can post anonymous accounts of abuse they have suffered.”
The website Everyone’s Invited has recorded 8,000 testimonies of sexual abuse from pupils.
Let’s see what sort of response there has been to such a public facing site with anonymous allegations:
The Department for Education, the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs’ Council were in touch with the Everyone’s Invited website to provide support, protection and advice, he added.
At Townshend in contrast, whistleblowers were referred to as “barking little dogs” by an administrator to the alleged perpetrator early in the investigation. The menace of legal action was brandished against at least one student for speaking out. Students were shamed with religious sanctimony about unity, having a sin-covering eye, and avoiding rumors. Leads and evidence furnished by anonymous allegations were not investigated in a ‘supportive and protective‘ manner (as depicted in the BBC article) but instead were referred to as having “the deliberate and mischievous intent of spreading rumors and misinformation in the community”. The alleged perpetrators were exonerated with the expressed ‘impression’ that “words and actions were not motivated by sexual intent” despite how a large number of vulnerable students have described their own impressions of a variety of experiences of what (they indicate) ranges from sexual misconduct to abuse.
The school received anonymized victim allegations which were collected by one “Jane Doe” (victim) first hand. Her messages represented a tremendous opportunity for the school to glean further information from these carefully collected leads- in which for accuracy, even the spelling and grammar mistakes were preserved by the thoughtful student.
Without tools, expertise or experience I found out the identity of “Jane Doe” by sending her a supportive reply message. Jane Doe revealed her identity to me before other adults and on the same day that I emailed her simply because I was a trusted adult who reached out in a supportive manner. I tried desperately for a year to convey what students shared with me and to encourage students to come foreword to the administration but the school’s response has been mostly harmful and indifferent.
A school ultimately is susceptible to the reputation it earns and may loose the ine it attempts to manufacture. While many students have been profoundly harmed I know that there are many who will do all they can to support and protect them and to try to remain worthy or their trust and friendship.
When I was a teenager, some thirty years ago I remember reading that Muhammad was caught in a scandal on the eve of the most dangerous battle of the prophet’s life. Most of the believers expected for themselves, total annihilation and trembled as they spiritually prepared to disappear from the world.
In this mood, and condition Muhamad’s wives were over-heard bickering with him in his tent in the evening. The men confronted him in the morning saying “what will you do about these wives of yours?”
“Nothing” was his serene reply. The Muslims were bewildered and angry. One of them said “If my wife had spoken with me in this haughty way I would not hesitate to kill her where she stood. Then how can you claim to be a prophet of God and do nothing about this outrage?” To this he answered only: “Remember the wombs from which you have come.” and turned and left them to their dismay. At this insult, half of the Muslims defected and joined their enemies at a time when they were already hopelessly outnumbered. Those who remained were terrified and desperate, but Muhammad reassured them, promising that those who remained steadfast would be strengthened and protected by the angels themselves. Muslims were now outnumbered, ten to one. But the ensuing battle the next day saw a decisive victory in favor of the Muslims. The Muslims in fact had almost no casualties.
As far as I am aware (correct me if I am wrong) Muhammad to this day is the only prophet of any of the great religions to have devoted an entire chapter of his holy book to the upliftment of women and to their legal protection, with arguments in support of their rights, their noble qualities and indispensability to the maintenance of community well-being and to life itself as mothers. In it – the Surah entitled “Alnisa” (the Women) he remarked ‘remember the wombs from which you came’ in the first paragraph just as he told the Muslims the fateful night before their most glorious battle on their perilous journey back home.