A petition drawing attention to the sexual harassment of girls at New Westminster Secondary School has surpassed 750 signatures.
As of Monday, there were 768 names on the petition to school administration.
“Our school is full of girls who’ve been forced into uncomfortable situations, been harassed, disrespected, touched, victim blamed, and we’re tired of it,” says the petition, which has been circulating online.
“Too many of us have had to put up with harassment and uncomfortable comments because we know most of the time if we try and speak up, all the rest of the boys will just make the situation worse. We have a right to feel safe in our school environment, we deserve respect, and we need the school to do something about it.”
The petition suggests a number of possible solutions, including having monthly speakers visit the school to discuss the behaviour in question, and ensuring that adults don’t disregard “rude remarks” made towards girls if they overhear such comments.
It also mentions the police liaison officer program, which the school district recently voted to discontinue.
“Honestly, another aspect of this is keeping the youth liaison officers in the school as well. So that there is someone on campus who can discuss the consequences of someone’s actions immediately after someone reports it,” the petition reads.
Katharine Galloway, a representative of the NWSS Student Voice group, drew attention to the petition at the April 27 school board meeting – the meeting at which the board voted to discontinue the liaison program.
Galloway noted an incident from a previous semester in which a liaison officer was able to step in and help when nude photos of a female student were being circulated.
“Part of them feeling safe in school is having somebody to report these incidences to and tell about the things that happen in our school when they feel unsafe because of comments that people make about their bodies or things that happen,” Galloway said. “I think that it’s important that we have some connections, so that people who feel unsafe in that aspect have somewhere to go and somewhere to report it to that can take it seriously.”
'TOXIC MASCULINITY' IS DEEPLY EMBEDDED
Board chair Gurveen Dhaliwal said the safety of students remains paramount.
“Where there are crimes, we will call the police. Nothing will change there,” she said.
Dhaliwal said the petition has brought to light an issue that obviously needs to be addressed, and she noted school administrators are dealing with the issue now.
“But what the administration and teams working with these young women are hearing is that the problem runs deeper than can be addressed by an officer talking about consent. So we’re looking at toxic masculinity, at sexist patterns that are deeply embedded in our society and at issues that are a lot broader than what’s happening at a single school, as so many of us women already know,” she said.
“Instead of looking at how we can or cannot police the actions, we’re taking more of an approach where we’re working with community advocates and experts, and let’s start looking at addressing the attitudes and patterns that lead to harassment and assaults in the first place and really change the culture for good.
“It’s so critical that our students feel safe in the school. It’s something near and dear, and we’ll make sure that we’re working to protect our students.”