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Ōtautahi Head Students On Sexual Assault And Harassment: Speak Up, Speak Out

ŌTAUTAHI, Christchurch. The stories from the Christchurch Girls High School survey are shocking but unsurprising to many students. Sexual assault and harassment is a pervasive issue in schools and across Aotearoa that has never been properly addressed. Every year sexual assault stories spark public outrage, from the #MeToo movement to the murder of Sarah Everard. Yet nothing changes. For many, sexual assault is an uncomfortable topic. But this attitude is no longer sustainable, there is a conversation that needs to take place within schools across Aotearoa about sexual assault and harassment, and there is a need for action.

One Schools’ Network is working together as a collective to address these issues. Head Students have a powerful platform to implement change within our schools, says Riccarton High School Head Student Silas Zhang: ‘As Head Students, we want to show that we are not afraid to take a stand for our fellow ākonga, that we can say enough is enough. We have such a powerful platform to make a difference, we need to use it because these are real people, real stories.’

In particular, male senior student leaders need to speak up, speak out. To call out the locker room talk, the sexist and misogynistic jokes, the slut shaming and the non-consensual sharing of nude photos. These are the behaviours that we see at ground level, the issues that are often not addressed or ignored by students who may know it's wrong but don’t speak out. ‘This is often the precursors to sexual assault and harassment...’ Says Christchurch Boys’ High School Head Boy Henry Allott. ‘...which is why it is so important that our male senior student leaders across Aotearoa speak up, and speak out against this behaviour, to role model for all students.’

Our teachers, principals, and boards need to help empower our male student leaders to speak up. This can only be done if central government, in particular the Ministry for Education, provides leadership and direction that enables them to address these issues.

We cannot do this alone. Government already has the resources and the capability to fix this pervasive issue within schools in Aotearoa. What we need is the political will to take action. The announcement that a nationwide sexual assault and harassment survey along with compulsory relationship and sexuality education in the curriculum marks a: ‘step in the right direction…’ According to Christchurch Girls High School Head Girl Amiria Tikao. ‘..but it is not nearly the level of leadership needed from government.’

‘The victims should remain at the centre of this story.’ Says Rangi Ruru Girls' School Head Girl Sam Senior. One Schools’ Network’s message to all our fellow ākonga who have become victims of sexual assault or harassment is clear: ‘You are not alone, we are here for you and we are fighting for you. It was not your fault and we commit to you that we will speak up and we will speak out to take action on sexual assault and harassment.’

One Schools Network hopes to ultimately create a culture within our school communities that promote respect and healthy relationships. A culture where our ākonga feel comfortable enough to express themselves, to be who they are and to grow into their full potential. A culture where students feel safe and supported when they report. E Tū Tāngata, let’s stand together against sexual assault and harassment.

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