The unreported cases of sexual assault on male students in school hostels

[ Bengia Ajum ]

ITANAGAR, 6 May: The majority of the schools in the state are going to reopen soon after the end of the summer vacation. With it, a large chunk of children will be sent to boarding schools by their parents. While the parents send their children to the hostels with the hope of a better future, for some, these same hostels are reason for a lifetime of trauma.

Cases of sexual assault on girls in the schools are always a major concern, and the authorities have always taken a strong stand on this issue. However, not many are aware that many incidents of sexual assaults on boys take place in the schools of Arunachal Pradesh. Many of these incidents are never reported as the victims suffer in silence.

This journalist spoke to a victim who shared his ordeals on condition of anonymity. He agreed to speak out in the hope that no children suffers as he suffered. The man, who is now in his 40s, said that the incidents had a lasting effect on his life.

“I was in KG when the first incident of sexual assault took place. The assaulters were my seniors. It wasn’t a forcible kind, but I was confused as they gave me toffee to lure. However, there wasn’t penetration. They just rubbed their penises on my bottom,” he said.

“The second time I was in Class 5. This time also there wasn’t any forced assault, but boys (mostly seniors) used to molest us when we were in deep sleep. Every morning I found my backside smeared with fluids, which later in life I realised was sperm. Several times we were aware of what was going on, but didn’t have the courage to resist as it was difficult and confusing how to react or respond,” he said.

He further said that sometimes some boys would forcibly kiss or try to molest him in the hostel, and when he resisted, he was beaten up.

The most difficult part for the victims is how to report cases of sexual assault to their parents and teachers.

“Problem is, since I was small, it was difficult to comprehend the situation. It was entirely confusing. Also, we didn’t know if the matter was fit for complaint or not. Normally, teachers would be indifferent even if we were physically beaten up, or we didn’t dare complain due to fear of the assaulter,” the victim said.

He went on to add: “My parents were from a village, and we didn’t know how to discuss these things with them. With friends, we dare not as it would invite shaming that we were taken advantage of.”

Such has been the trauma that the victim now advises parents to avoid sending children to boarding schools as much as possible. “Even if they do, they must make the children aware of such possibilities. Talk to them directly and ask them to report any indecent behaviour, approach, or act of other students towards them. They should build the confidence of their children to talk to them openly,” he added.

Rosy Taba Gongo, a former member of the NCPCR, advised parents to “check the school thoroughly before admission to see if any previous cases have been reported or if any person involved has been accused or charged for such cases in the school.”

“All the schools should follow the new guidelines of the POCSO Act, 2012, especially Section 21 of mandatory reporting of such cases. They should have a school committee to deal with such cases, and there should be a separation of the hostels of senior and junior boys according to class and age,” she said.

Gongo emphasised on conducting compulsory socio-psychological analysis of all the people working in a school, including gatekeepers, cooks, or anybody working in close association with kids, to see that the person doesn’t have a paedophile’s mindset. Further, she suggested that strict action should be taken against such schools by the government and monitoring bodies like the SCPCR, “including the cancellation of school licenses to operate.”

“In Arunachal Pradesh, sexual assault reporting is very less, but the truth is, reporting is less due to stigmatisation,” said Gongo.

She urged the education department to ensure that children in all schools, both private and government, along with those in preschools and day care centres get compulsory orientation on what is safe touch or what is sexual abuse, according to their age and understanding.