BRINGING SAFER SPACES IN SCHOOLS: PROTECT OUR STUDENTS! PH
If a student were a victim of sexual harassment or violence, who is held accountable? This has been an ongoing question with a simple answer–the abuser. Although it’s easy to pinpoint the culprit, why is it difficult for different institutions to admit it? For some, especially in schools, the answer would come in the form of silence. For others, it is the victim’s fault. In some way, there are even varieties for it. They might have seduced the abuser, wore “tempting” clothes, or they were flirty.
This problem and system, that was created by society, has always been delaying the justice these students deserve. Aside from schools refraining from taking legal action, families who try to take this case to court are often discouraged because they know they are up against the school and abuser. In this view, not only the abuser gets to be free, but also, there is no compensation for the student who only wanted to study in a place that they know they will be safe.
Because of this, when the people, or group, do not fulfill this role wholeheartedly, something or someone needs to step up. And this is where Protect Our Students! PH (POS! PH) comes into the picture.
Reclaiming safe spaces
“It pretty much started when I posted that graphic for MCHS Do Better,” Kit Andres, one of the co-founders of POS! PH said. As she recalled, the Facebook post garnered a handful of likes and shares. On top of this reception, Andres also mentioned that comments were asking: “Is this happening?”
For Andres and among many others, this is not the first time people are calling out sexual harassment incidents in schools. Over at Twitter, some victims came out with their stories. Although there were mixed reactions from people, it was easy to point out who is against the students that are coming out with their stories–it was the administrators. As Jill de Leon, the other co-founder of POS PH, recalled, “It started a week or a day before, I also posted about the story of my friend who was assaulted by her batchmate. I kept it anonymous at first. She decided to call them out, and I called the prefect. They blamed her, and dismissed her case.”
This situation brought Andres and De Leon to create POS PH!. At the heart of their work, their focus is on helping and protecting these students. Because of this, their first initiative is a Schools’ Response Tracker. As Andres explained, this is a list of schools and the overall action that they have done about the issue. On top of that, there is an evaluation of how well they have responded based on the Five Point Student Demands from the Malakas Coalition.
About the current status of the schools, De Leon said that in terms of legal action, there is little to no effort coming from the schools. The common trend for some schools is to stay silent or release an announcement.
Continuing the mission
Aside from the Schools Response Tracker, they have recently launched Alay Eskwela. This project is a fundraiser for students who can not afford laptops and gadgets for their online classes. The process of choosing candidates goes through a tedious and thorough process with transparency and security in mind. Donors are assured that the help they give will surely go to a student.
Before launching, Andres and De Leon were already overwhelmed with the continuous support from their family and friends. “We were expecting a couple of a thousand [pesos], and surprisingly, we were already at our halfway goal before launching our drive. We were shocked. We started with five. We might have to add more beneficiaries,” De Leon said. Upon officially launching Alay Eskwela, they have managed to extend the number of beneficiaries to eight students.
If there were any lessons from this experience, De Leon said that it brings back her faith in humanity. At first, De Leon was skeptical of reaching out to a stranger online. However, as she continued to converse with some candidates, it changed her perspective–especially those candidates who already received help from other sources. “There were those saying: may laptop na ako, pwede ba sa cousin or sister ko na lang,” She recalled. Regardless of these difficult times, there are still individuals out there who are also looking out for other students who are in need.
(I already have a laptop. Can my cousin or sister have it instead?)
Looking into the future
When thinking about moving forward, POS! PH is looking for more ways to help out students. As Andres mentioned, “We’re planning a campaign #ProtectYourFreshie. It’s protecting freshmen from predators. It’s part of sexual misconduct.” As Andres continued to explain, there are issues surrounding upperclassmen trying to take advantage of younger batches. Although most of the freshmen are at the age of consent, there is still a gap. She pointed out that there are things the older batches know that younger ones are not usually educated about. Most of the time, it may lead to abuse or manipulation which can hurt those who are still starting college.
In the end, POS! PH has laid their contributions on the table and will continue in protecting the students. However, this is just the first step. Together with POS PH!, different groups should also do their part. Aside from youth and non-government organizations, the institutions, such as schools and DepED, should implement student-centered policies, and create a legal action system to assist the victim and their families against the abuser. Doing these solutions can help everyone reach a bigger step in supporting and empowering our students.