KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 — Despite critics’ claim of no substantial data on sexual harassment and rape culture in local schools, a safe space platform calling itself Save The Schools MY have managed to collect at least 270 stories so far from survivors.
The initiative on Instagram which was started last month provides detailed stories from students and ex-students who claimed to have experienced sexual harassment in every level of schooling in Malaysia, by giving them anonymity.
Founder Puteri Nuraaina Balqis, 26, said she started the movement after several teachers dismissed 17-year-old student activist Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam’s exposé of a fellow peer telling a rape joke, even going as far as to say that the latter is autistic.
“What particularly struck me on the morning of April 27 was when I learnt how a few teachers started a rumour on Ain that she's autistic therefore her allegations shouldn't be taken seriously. That to me is super messed up because so what if she is autistic, that doesn’t mean the rape joke didn’t happen.
“I was already fuming at how enablers online were consistently invalidating victims' experience, and how the entire school ganged up against her.
“So I thought maybe if people can learn more real time stories about the horrible culture, then more people will believe in the cause and resonate in solidarity,” she told Malay Mail.
Puteri Nuraaina, who is an executive for Malaysia in Asia-Pacific media relations platform Telum Media, said students' welfare has been a very close topic to her heart, starting from her experience as a student leader in university.
She said she had also previously started a similar online initiative in October 2020 when many students were stranded in their campuses following a policy change by the Ministry of Higher Education amid the movement control order.
When asked about what surprised her the most about the response garnered so far, Puteri Nuraaina said she did not expect to hear such atrocities in primary schools as the initiative had originally targeted only secondary school experience.
“Approximately 30 to 40 per cent of the stories took place in primary schools, Kafa classes and even kindergartens,” she added. Kafa refers to extra Islamic classes outside the usual public schools.
She also said that despite the perception that male survivors are uncommon, more have now stood up and told their stories — commonly involving a perpetrator of the same gender.
“More and more male victims are speaking up and because it's commonly a man-to-man event, the details were more brutal and I really feel sick in a stomach.
“In fact some of them had it worse because they bottled it up to themselves all these years and some are still seeking help from mental health institutions to this very day,” she said.
Earlier this month, several leaders including DAP’s Kampung Tunku assemblyman Lim Yi Wei chided a National Union of The Teaching Profession (NUTP) representative for denying sexual harrassment allegations and the prevalence of rape culture in schools nationwide.
On April 7, women’s groups slammed NUTP secretary-general Harry Tan for dismissing systemic sexist, rape, abuse and misogynistic culture in schools.
In a joint statement, the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG), Bulan Sisters and Pertubuhan Pembangunan Kendiri Wanita dan Gadis (WOMEN:girls) said Tan’s dismissive comments, which aim to protect the teaching profession, do not do justice to victims.
This evening, civil society Projek Wawasan Rakyat (POWR) will be holding a live-reading session of the stories featured in Save the Schools MY at its Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ProjekWawasanRakyat/.
The event will feature among others former education minister Maszlee Malik, activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, model Alicia Amin, and artist Daiyan Trisha.
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