SOURCE: · CBC News ·
More than one-quarter of young people surveyed in Atlantic Canada say others had shared sexual rumours or messages about them while they were in school.
Reflecting on their years in school, one in 10 of those surveyed also said a sexual act had been forced upon them.
The CBC News-commissioned survey asked more than 4,000 young people across Canada about their experiences with violence, bullying, racism and homophobia in school.
It was prompted by a months-long CBC News investigation that found a lack of national data on the amount of violence that happens in Canadian schools, along with a culture of underreporting.
The survey suggests peer-on-peer violence is common in Canadian schools, and in some cases, it starts as early as elementary school.
The findings were disappointing for Glen Canning, who has made it his life’s mission to share the story of his late daughter, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons.
She died after a suicide attempt in 2013, following what her family has described as repeated bullying. Her parents have said it began after Parsons was sexually assaulted at a house party two years earlier and a photo of the incident was circulated online.
“Somewhere in your statistics is somebody whose life is on a thread,” Canning said.
Canning has spent the last 6½ years sharing his daughter’s story in schools across Canada.
Hearing that so many students in the region have endured sexual violence and bullying “points to a failure” to address the root issues, he said.
He believes people need to learn about consent at a young age, and young men need to be involved in fixing the problem.
“Six and a half years after Rehtaeh Parsons died, we’re still dealing with much of the same kind of sexual objectifying of people and harassment and abuse,” Canning said.
The name Rehtaeh Parsons also came to mind when Paul Bennett saw the findings of the survey.
“It does surprise me … that after all of the discussion and all of the measures that were introduced after the Rehtaeh Parsons case, that we don’t seem to see much improvement in terms of student behaviour,” said Bennett, who is director of Schoolhouse Institute, an education research and consulting firm based in Halifax.
“And we don’t seem to have made a whole lot of success in putting an end to this abusive forum of cyberbullying.”
More than one-third, or 34 per cent, of Atlantic respondents in the survey also said they were physically assaulted (slapped, kicked or beaten) in elementary or middle school.
For students in high school, the number creeps up to 38 per cent, slightly higher than the national average.
More than one-quarter of young people surveyed said they faced being called hateful names or comments that are racist (29 per cent) or homophobic or transphobic (26 per cent) at least once while attending high school.
Bennett would like to see a reliable, national source of data on student behaviour. Across the country, the data is incomplete and there aren’t consistent definitions of behaviours.
“Since 2011, we have not had a national body that collected, organized and reported on data on students,” he said.
“That was called the Canadian Council on Learning. There’s a huge hole in the Canadian educational system in that we find it difficult to compare data from province to province or to discuss things in a way that’s similar from province to province.”
Nationally, the survey found that nearly half (45 per cent) of students who experienced violence in high school didn’t report any of the incidents.
A smaller proportion, 35 per cent, reported some incidents to school officials, while only 17 per cent said they reported all of the incidents to school officials.
The survey was carried out for CBC by Mission Research. The findings were derived from 4,065 online surveys completed by Canadians aged 14 to 21 between Aug. 26 and Sept. 6. In a probability sample of this size, the results would be considered accurate within 1.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
When Canning speaks to students, he always tells them to tell someone what’s happened to them until someone listens.
He believes teachers need to create an environment where young people feel they can speak up and they’ll be believed.
“In all your statistics out there, there’s a Rehtaeh Parsons,” Canning said.
“There’s someone’s child out there who has been assaulted, who’s been bullied, who’s been put down and pushed around. Somewhere out there is some kid thinking, why doesn’t anybody care?”
For respondents who had experienced violence and bullying and who weren’t satisfied with the school’s response, the survey asked why that was the case. Most respondents said no action had been taken by the schools in response to their complaint.
One said, “Nothing ever seemed to be done. Everything just seemed to come back to the same routine of hate after about a week.”
“They told me they couldn’t regulate what happened online, and since the girl had a bad home life they didn’t want to punish her,” said another.
The survey also asked what more should be done to make students feel safe.
Some respondents made suggestions like having strictly enforced zero-tolerance policies, instituting new training for students around sexual health, race, ethnicity and LGBTQ issues. Others suggested more teachers or security staff are needed.
“Physical and sexual assaults should be handled by the police, not the schools,”said one. “Why is it OK to commit crimes, at school, and not anywhere else?
“The rights of bullies to an education should not trump the rights of all the other students to a safe [learning environment].”
“I wish I knew,” replied another.
Kids Help phone counsellors are available 24/7 at 1-800-668-6868, on social media at @KidsHelpPhone or by texting CONNECT to 686868 for youth who need support.
It was the first day of Grade 6. After learning that my family had just arrived to Canada from Pakistan as refugees, a kid at my Toronto school asked if I was a Paki. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just flashed a clueless smile. Judging from the chorus of kids’ laughter, I could only tell that being called Paki was not a compliment.
My family and I left Pakistan because we’re Ahmadis. People from this religious sect are regularly persecuted, legally and through extreme measures, for anything from using a traditional Muslim greeting in public to reciting the call to prayer. My siblings and I were given daily lessons on keeping our religious identity a secret, and for good reason: Stories of Ahmadi businesses being set ablaze and Ahmadi mosques being sieged by gunmen are sadly common. My own cousin had narrowly avoided getting killed when Sunni extremists barged into a mosque during Friday prayer and opened fire. He managed to lead a group of attendees into the basement, but others weren’t so lucky: Attacks by grenades and rifles killed 80 and wounded more than 100 Ahmadi Muslims.
I started an ESL class shortly after arriving in Canada. The class was full of refugees like me, who were confused by the insults and racial slurs hurled at them each day. Three months in, when the teacher declared that I no longer needed ESL, I was extremely anxious. She probably assumed that her evaluation would be a badge of honour for a new refugee kid, but what she didn’t realize was that the ESL class was my only safe haven. I was terrified of the bullying that awaited me outside the doors of the class.
Outside of ESL class, the humiliations abounded, whether I was teased for being Paki, as the girls in gym class liked to remind me, or for looking malnourished and skinny. I looked different. I acted different. I smelled different.
My parents were struggling. I didn’t want to trouble them with news that sometimes kids would spit on the rotis my mom had lovingly prepared and wrapped in newspaper as she did in Pakistan. Or that sometimes girls would just slap me without an explanation. Instead, I would come home from school and help my mom with her ESL homework – she was enrolled in a mandatory class so that we could collect welfare cheques. Instead of telling her about the bullying, I would sit down beside her on our hand-me-down couch and show her how to use an adjective in a sentence. She had a lot of her own worries. I felt she didn’t need another one. Like many refugee kids, who have to accompany their parents to the doctor or help them open a bank account, I felt, sometimes, as if I was the parent.
A few years later, when things got especially tough and I felt like no one could help me, I tried to take my own life. I discreetly doused a sandwich in bleach but somehow, I survived. Amal Alshteiwi didn’t. MORE
The Ontario government says 63 per cent of university students who took a province-wide survey on campus sexual violence reported they have experienced some type of sexual harassment.
Nearly 50 per cent of college students surveyed reported the same.
Merrilee Fullerton, the minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, called the results of the survey — completed by 116,000 university students and 42,000 college students — disturbing.
The province will also now require all colleges and universities to report annually on the measures taken to support students who have experienced sexual violence.
Schools will also be required to review their sexual violence policies and form task forces to address the issue by September.
The survey, called the Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey, was made up of over 50 questions that gauged respondents’ perceptions of consent and rape myths, their experiences with sexual violence, and how well they think their school responds to reports of sexual violence.
Peter MacKay, former federal justice minister and attorney general, is the board chair of the Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Center. Karyn Kennedy is the organization’s CEO.
Many Canadians have paid close attention to the criminal proceedings involving students at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto, which have included assault and gang sexual assault. At Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre, we have been supporting victims and families involved in this case, as we have been doing for thousands of victims and their families in Toronto for more than 30 years. The storied history of the school has made the St. Michael’s case seem exceptional; but sadly, it is not. Even in the weeks after the St. Michael’s story emerged, we’ve had calls from parents across the city seeking help because their child was abused at other schools.
This is a problem that exists in every part of the country: Each year, there are more than 200,000 cases of reported child abuse and neglect in Canada. This number alone is shocking enough. Consider also that the impact of unresolved childhood abuse can be lifelong and cut across generations. This present reality makes us angry. It makes us sad. It must also drive action on improvement, because improved prevention is possible. That number can go down.
We must appreciate that this isn’t just about one school with a problem. In fact, this isn’t just a school problem. The St. Michael’s case has opened a window into the dangers of abuse that face children and youth across Canada in a variety of settings.
With younger children, the safety imperatives can seem more obvious. We regulate things such as car seats and playground equipment. We teach children in our lives to look both ways when crossing the street. We child-proof our homes.
When children become adolescents, they have new experiences that can sometimes present new risks. They spend more unsupervised time with other young people. Various adults can play significant roles in their lives and in reaching goals related to sports or other activities. Adolescents are not always as well prepared for the risks in these new environments because awareness and prevention aren’t discussed as openly as those childhood risks. This must change. Protection of adolescent children is also on our watch – the responsibility belongs to all of us.
Let’s start by losing our complacency and pledging to never permit, mask or make excuses for any type of abuse. Let’s call hazing and initiation what it truly is: a deliberate, often illegal use of power to abuse and degrade another human being. We also need to consider whether the term bullying really captures what is happening when boys and girls are physically or sexually assaulted by older children or youth. When such acts are committed against an adult, we call it sexual assault and call the police. Young people should be made more aware that committing such acts can lead to criminal charges and are, in fact, very damaging to those victimized.
Active, honest communication is vital. Children and youth must know that they will be heard if they tell an adult that they have experienced or seen abuse. There are children who have told our staff about wanting to tell an adult in their life about abuse but feeling there was never the right moment when they would have their full attention and understanding. Everybody has a responsibility to create those moments. Young people must know there is no higher priority than their safety. No other goal – not championships or scholarships – is more important than their well-being.
We need to build a stronger culture of prevention in places where youth spend their time. There should be active and transparent plans, understood by all – school administrators, principals, teachers, coaches, youth and parents – for mitigating the risk of assault and sexual assault.
Children who come forward to report abuse are heroes who open our eyes. We can’t look away. We owe it to them to protect them and other children from harm. All Canadians must join us in taking action, right now, to prevent abuse and build a future in which children and youth grow up in a safe, healthy and nurturing environment.
Dave Trafford had an incredible time at St. Michael’s College School four decades ago. He was the student body president, played on the hockey team, performed in musicals and ran its newspaper. He had a close group of friends who all had a great time.
Or so he thought.
Last week, as the all-boys private school in Toronto was rocked by allegations of assault and sexual assault by students, Trafford discovered that two of his best friends had struggled with bullying and felt unsafe at St. Michael’s.
“I did not see it then,” Trafford said. “It’s shocking, disappointing and heartbreaking.”
A criminal investigation triggered by a video that police sources say shows several members of a St. Michael’s sports team pinning down a student and sexually assaulting him with a broom handle has now expanded to include at least six incidents. Six students – aged 14 and 15 – are already facing sex assault-related charges and police have warned more charges could follow.
The school has admitted that it has failed in its responsibility to keep students safe, saying the recent incidents clearly indicate it has a problem.
“We need to do much better at our culture and our student’s ability to talk to us,” the school’s principal, Greg Reeves, said earlier this week after police announced the criminal charges against the six students.
The growing scandal has forced alumni to grapple with the past and a number of them are coming forward with their own experiences of bullying and harassment at the school that stretches back decades.
“There’s a real opportunity for the school to take a good look at itself and go deep and figure out how and why it happened and how they missed this,” Trafford said. “And to find out everything that has happened in the past.”
A number of former students who spoke with The Canadian Press said they’re eager to share their stories as part of an internal review promised by the school.
Nathan Goveas graduated from St. Michael’s in 2003.
“I was bullied the entire time I was there, right from day one,” said Goveas, who’s now a teacher.
He wasn’t involved in sports.
“I’m a skinny brown kid. People made fun of my appearance. It was mostly verbal bullying,” he said.
He never complained, but said his mother grew worried when she noticed he was feeling “down” in Grade 11. So she went to the administration.
“The principal dismissed it as boys will be boys,” Goveas said. The bullying continued.
Kyle Fraser said he left St. Michael’s in 2013 after Grade 10, unable to deal with the bullying.
“Leaving was the best decision of my life,” he said.
“I was bullied non stop, very relentless, not only by the students (but also) by the staff.”
He said he was picked on because he struggled with math and science and also because he wasn’t as good at hockey as some other students there.
“All that stuff affected me for a very long time,” he said. He became depressed and anxious.
“I was suicidal at one point. It got really bad.”
Fraser, who now studies at a university in Ohio, shared his story at an alumni meeting at the school on Tuesday night and received a lot of support afterward.
“It was very warming and put me in a peaceful state of mind,” he said. “There are a lot of good people there.”
Fraser and Goveas said there was a wide range of opinions at the meeting.
“I think some alumni aren’t willing to recognize the issues,” Goveas said.
Jean-Paul Bedard went public with his story last week in wake of the scandal. He lived through a violent, sexualized hazing incident at the school in the 1980s. He didn’t attend the alumni meeting, but has offered his services to the school as not only a survivor of sexual assault, but also as a trained trauma peer mentor. The school has yet to take up his offer.
“I’m skeptical of this review, but I will certainly be sharing my story,” he said. “Their attitude seems to be ‘we know how to fix this and don’t need outside help.“’
D’Arcy McKeown said he had a great time at St. Michael’s. Just a few months after graduating from the Roman Catholic school in 2005, he says he was sexually assaulted with a broom handle at McGill University as part of a hazing with the football team.
He left after just two weeks and returned to his alma mater, St. Michael’s, which he called a “safe space to recover.” He volunteered with the school’s football program for a time, before eventually resuming his studies at the University of Toronto.
McKeown applauded the school’s desire to take a victim-centric approach as it deals with both the current incidents and the historical “deep dive” into its culture.
“You need to get everything out there,” he said. “If others’ unfortunate experiences can help guide St. Mike’s in preventing these things going forward, it’s for the best, as painful as it may be for some to tell these stories.”
St. Michael’s alumni will be helping the school with mentorship and workshops in the coming days and weeks in an effort to help the current students.
At the age of 15, Laurissa Rose Degraw attempted to take her own life for the first time.
Over the next five years, she tried four more times.
“She made it very clear that this is how her life would end,” says her mother, Aimee Huitema. “She said it to me. She said it to her social worker. She said it to her doctors that she would take her life one day.”
More than 5,800 Canadian children and youth have died by suicide during the past 13 years across Canada — some as young as 8 years old, according to data compiled by a Toronto Star/Ryerson School of Journalism investigation from coroners’ offices in all provinces and territories except Nunavut.
Suicide is second only to accidents as the leading cause of death for young people in Canada.
In 2005, 146 people between the ages of 8 and 24 died by suicide in Ontario, according to coroner data. In 2016, the figure was 181.
Degraw was 20 when ended her life on a summer evening in July of 2016, hours after she returned home from a week at the family’s Lake Huron cottage.
“We had an amazing few days at the beach with my parents and my younger daughter Lily. Everything was perfect,” says Huitema.
But upon their return home, Degraw told her mother she wanted to go for a walk after dinner. She would never return.
In what was at least her fifth attempt at suicide, she hanged herself. Police found her body a two-minute walk from her house in Ingersoll, Ont.
Despite dedicated government mental health campaigns aimed at young people over the past two decades, youth suicide rates have remained steady. Some provinces have seen increases in recent years.
In Saskatchewan, 36 young people killed themselves in 2005; that number jumped to 54 last year. In British Columbia, the number rose to 114 from 78 a decade earlier. In Nova Scotia, the figures more than doubled in that same time frame.
Deaths are only recorded as suicide if the intent is clear. Experts estimate that for every completed suicide, between 10 and 100 suicides are attempted.
A 2016 survey of 1,319 Canadian teens aged 13 to 18 conducted by Kids Help Phone found one in five seriously considered suicide.
The coroners’ data does not break out ethnicity or race. But Health Canada data shows suicide is the leading cause of death for Canadian Aboriginal youth, where the rate of suicide is five to 11 times higher than for non-Indigenous populations.
“Kids are suffering,” says McMaster University assistant clinical professor Dr. Catharine Munn. “One student told me it felt (like) she was screaming at the top of her lungs, but no one was listening.”
National data on youth hospitalization for mental health issues also show a steady upward trend. Since 2007, emergency department mental health visits for patients aged 5 to 24 have jumped 66 per cent, according to new data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information. One in 12 was given mood/anxiety or antipsychotic medication.
Hospitalizations related to intentional self-harm increased by 102 per cent for girls aged 10 to 17 between 2009 and 2014 (four times higher than boys), CIHI data shows.
“It’s like cancer. But we ignored it for decades, and now we’re surprised?” says Munn.
While governments have acknowledged the crisis — and responded with millions of dollars in funding and programs — there have been few signs the problem is abating.
Kimberly Moran, CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, says there needs to be counselling and therapy for moderate mental health issues as well as specialized mental health services for those who may be suicidal and require 24/7 intensive treatment.
“Treating a child who is sad or depressed is much less money than it is for a child that is critically ill and in a hospital, and that’s certainly what happened to us. Once my daughter became suicidal then she had to be put in an in-patient unit in the hospital,” says Moran.
Dirk Huyer, chief coroner of Ontario, says coroners don’t have the expertise to understand all underlying factors. “Clearly, all of us in this society recognize that this is an important issue and an issue that continues to occur and that many in society are trying to figure the underlying factors,” he says.
One factor is bullying which has escalated and intensified on social media and brought into the national spotlight after the suicides of 15-year-olds Amanda Todd, Jamie Hubley and Todd Loik, as well as Rehtaeh Parsons, 17.
“Suicide happens in the darkest moments of your life where you feel like nothing else can help solve your problems,” says Carol Todd, Amanda’s mother. “They think that if they disappear off the earth, all their pain will go away. They don’t think beyond how much it can hurt the people around them or if there’s a tomorrow that will be brighter.
“I was afraid that if you said the word (suicide) then you would implant the idea, but the idea is already implanted in their head,” she says.
Amanda died in October 2012 at her home in Port Coquitlam, B.C. About a month before, she had posted a video to YouTube entitled “My Story” and used flash cards to tell about being bullied. She also left a video message to her parents on her cellphone. Carol still hasn’t been able to watch.
“With teenagers, it’s like someone can say, ‘I hate you, I don’t want to be your friend and I’m going to tell everyone all the bad things about you,’ and that will be enough to spiral everyone down, especially if they’re vulnerable to start with,” she says.
Marshall Korenblum, psychiatrist-in-chief at the Sick Kids Centre for Community Mental Health, says that while bullying among youth has been around for hundreds of years, social media has compounded its impact.
“You can basically spread a rumour now to hundreds of people with one click of the button so bullying is old as the hills but social media makes it faster, more widespread and easier to be anonymous,” Korenblum says.
Then there’s the growing exposure young people have to suicide — even the celebration of self harm — on television and social media which can trigger the minds of young children.
“If you’re at all thinking about suicide and you wanted to learn how to cut yourself, or if you’re anorexic and you want to learn how to starve yourself, there’s a lot of websites out there that tell you how to do that,” he said.
The Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has generated controversy across school boards in Canada for its portrayal of suicide. Some elementary schools sent out emails to parents to let them know students were prohibited from even mentioning the show on school grounds.
Depression — among the most common forms of mental disorders amongst youth — is also a factor.
Ottawa city councillor Allan Hubley’s son, Jamie, was battling depression after being verbally and physically bullied throughout elementary and high school.
The bullying began escalating on the school bus when Jamie, a figure skater, was in Grade 7 and continued into high school as he was constantly teased for being openly gay.
“You feel helpless,” says Allan. “You can’t get them help when you’re trying to get them help. It just wasn’t available.”
Jamie died by suicide in 2011.
Gay youth are four times more likely to die by suicide than heterosexual youth, due in large part to bullying and negative family attitudes, U.S. studies have shown.
Jamie’s father is still struggling to understand how it happened.
“Why are (kids) coming to that conclusion?” asks Allan. “What’s going on today that kids are deciding that the best way to deal with this is to end their lives?”
With files from David Lao/Ryerson School of Journalism
Where to get help
Distress and Crisis Ontario: http://www.dcontario.org/centres.html
Your Life Counts: https://yourlifecounts.org/find-help/ (enter Canada/Ontario)
Youthline (support for LGBT youth): http://www.youthline.ca/
ConnexOntario (all ages): 1-866-531-2600
Good2Talk (post-secondary student helpline): 1-866-925-5454
Kids Help Phone (general counselling line): 1-800-668-6868
Ontario crisis text (2 p.m. -2 a.m. ET): 741-741
Ontario Crisis Chat ( 2 p.m. – 2 a.m. ET): www.dcontario.org/ontx.html
YouthSpace: 778-783-0177 (6 p.m. – 12 a.m. PST) or firstname.lastname@example.org
Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) in French or English: toll-free 1-833-456-4566 (24/7)
First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness 24/7 Help Line: 1-855-242-3310
Canadian Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Trans LifeLine (all ages): 1-877-330-6366
Policy Options – Michelle Austin
February 5, 2018
What everyone who works in the field of politics requires is bystander training. Victims of abuse – be it child abuse, sexual abuse, workplace harassment, marital abuse or elder abuse – will note that they repeatedly tried to tell their story and get help, but nothing happened. “From my experience, a child who is being abused has to tell — on average — seven people before their story is taken seriously,” said survivor and activist Sheldon Kennedy. MORE
Canadian School Board Association Supports Respect in School
The Canadian School Boards Association has recently agreed to become a supporting organization of the Respect in School program, listing it as a valuable resource and counted among best practices. MORE
Encouraging respect in Manitoba schools
Former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, Premier Brian Pallister and education minister Ian Wishart spoke to n Meghan McOmber’s Grade 7 class at Bernie Wolfe Community School (95 Bournais Dr.), on April 10. Kennedy, Pallister, and Wishart were at Bernie Wolfe to announce $100,000 in annual funding for the next three years to bring the Respect in School program to public, First Nations, and independent schools across the province. MORE