The new Student Protector to supervise sexual violence is not unanimous

Photos of naked students circulating on social networks, touching in the corridors, harassment: the new Student Protector is ill-suited to supervise sexual violence in schools, deplores a group of workers who support high school students.

The duty gathered the testimonies of nine students who suffered various sexual violence in secondary schools, or who witnessed harassment. For them – and for workers who offer them support – the government must create a structure to accommodate complaints of a sexual nature in schools, as it has done for CEGEPs and universities.

“The pupils tell us: ‘How come adult students are protected against sexual violence, but we young people are not protected? We are not believed when we denounce sexual violence at school ””, explains Clorianne Augustin, worker at the Youth Collective “The voice of young people counts”.

She and her colleague Mélanie Lemay voluntarily accompany around twenty girls between the ages of 15 and 21 who have experienced sexual violence in high school. Nine of them told the To have to the misadventures they suffered in five Montreal schools. Buttocks or breasts touched, unsolicited photos with a sexual connotation and harassment have become commonplace, according to them.

Kathleen (fictitious name to protect her identity), she lived a traumatic event: her ex-boyfriend circulated on the network SnapChat a photo of her naked. His whole class saw the photo. Kathleen was devastated. She missed two weeks of school. “I was ashamed, I was demolished,” she says, her voice trembling.

The young woman has not spoken to any adult. Not even to his parents. And she did not trust the principal of her school to handle this crisis. Clorianne Augustin and Mélanie Lemay supported her.

When they get angry with their abuser or raise their voice, girls say they often get punished for breaking school rules. Or their friends turn on them calling them snitch.

A process to improve

The Youth Collective is calling for the establishment of an office in each secondary school (and even primary) to receive complaints from students. The establishment of similar structures in CEGEPs and universities in 2018 “led to a cultural change that was felt throughout society,” recalls Mélanie Lemay.

She believes that the new National Student Protector proposed by the Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, is insufficient to counter sexual violence at school. The Student Ombudsman is designed to investigate cases of bullying, the provision of school transportation or grade reviews, for example. But it is not very conducive to the supervision of sexual violence, according to the Youth Collective.

Students or their parents must lodge a complaint in writing “to the person directly concerned by the complaint or to his immediate superior [dans l’école]. If these people are dissatisfied with the handling of their complaint, they can contact the person in charge of handling complaints, who is appointed from among the staff of a school service center and a private educational institution ”, indicates Bill 9.

It is only after these stages that the regional protector of the pupil, and possibly the national protector, would come into play.

Go further

These people responsible for handling complaints in schools do not necessarily have the training required to receive denunciations of sexual violence, says deputy Christine Labrie, from Québec solidaire. This fall, she tabled a bill to create a structure to regulate sexual violence in schools.

“It is not enough to develop a complaints mechanism. We also need to train staff and educate students. I sense the government’s goodwill on sexual violence. The bill on courts specializing in domestic and sexual violence has been adopted. We must now go further and protect students in schools, ”said the solidarity deputy.

The Minister of Education is open to suggestions to improve his bill on the Student Protector, said Florent Tanlet, press secretary of the minister. “If we judge that the bill can be improved, we will do so”, especially after the study of the bill in parliamentary committee, said Minister Roberge’s spokesperson.

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