opinion

Mum of student "slut shamed" by school: "They aren’t wearing their skirts to sexualise themselves."

Last week, news broke that more than 70 schools around Australia were unknowingly involved in an online pornography forum.

The forum had images of underage girls (either taken without consent or selfies sent in confidence) that were being uploaded, shared and “rated” by school boys and men.

On Friday, Catherine Manning, a mother of a 14-year-old school girl at co-ed Kambrya College in Victoria, posted a public Facebook message calling for an end to slut-shaming.

The subject of the shaming was Manning’s daughter, her daughter’s classmates, and all girls from Year 7 to Year 10. The pupils had been called into an assembly on Thursday to be told about the online abuse, but also to be reminded what the school’s uniform policy was.

They were told students’ skirts must reach the knee or below. That this was to “protect their integrity”. That “short skirts distract boys”. And that they should refuse any request from boys for sexy selfies, because who knows where these images might end up?

The boys are said to have been called into a separate assembly to discuss the online abuse; however their appropriation of the school uniform was not brought up.

“The problem is not with the girls and the length of their skirts, nor whether or not they choose to share photos with their boyfriends or anyone else,” Catherine’s Facebook post read. “It’s with the boys themselves; their sense of entitlement and sexist attitudes towards women and girls, their lack of respect, and the trust they CHOOSE to break.”

Catherine’s post, which can be seen in full here, went viral.

Catherine Manning's Facebook post went viral. Image via Facebook.

It was seen alongside a video where Kambrya College student, Faith Sobotker, 15, addressed the camera directly, saying she did respect herself, and that "the length of my skirt or dress does not matter".

Now, everyone is looking for a way forward.

"The initial response from the school was that the girls were overreacting, making a mountain out of a molehill," Catherine, who runs relationship and self-esteem programs for boys and girls, told Mamamia.

"Since then, I’ve had a phone call from the school to say they’re happy to discuss the situation and find a solution to move forward. I had a very positive conversation with the school principal, and we have a meeting on Wednesday to discuss it further."

Before posting to Facebook on Friday, Catherine tried to contact the school with phone calls and emails. When she didn't receive a response, she took the issue public.

She did this because she was distressed; angered by the way her daughter, and her daughter's classmates, were made to feel - as if they had been sexualised by the school. As if the length of their skirts somehow excused, or made understandable, the sharing of non-consensual images online.

"They aren’t wearing their skirts to sexualise themselves – they’re 14 and 15 years old, it’s other people who’ve sexualised them," Catherine said.

She was also concerned that boys in the school had adopted the victim-blaming sentiment.

"Some boys passed comments about length of girls' skirts," Catherine said.

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"The more I heard from the girls about what was said and the treatment they were receiving at school, the more I felt that this really does need to be looked at from a societal point of view.

"The reason it went viral was because this message resonates with all of us. We’ve all been through this policing of our bodies, and being valued based on the length of our skirt and the way we present ourselves. This leads to a culture that absolves perpetrators of responsibility."

The response to Catherine's post was powerful, and in some instances, divided.

"The vast majority of mothers of girls at the school has been very supportive," she says. "A few mothers of boys have been quite hostile, feeling like we're attacking their boys."

"Other people have missed the point, and have made the issue about uniform policy and if it's a good thing or not. This is a separate conversation. The point is the length of school uniforms was being discussed at the same time as the sharing of photographs online. There was a deliberate conversation with the girls about their uniforms and not a conversation with the boys, as if the length of school skirts was directly tied into the cyber abuse," Catherine added.

"There was a deliberate conversation with the girls about their uniforms and not a conversation with the boys" Image via iStock.

The way forward, Catherine believes, is to start a different conversation.

"The thing that needs to be addressed is not whether or not a girl should send a boy a selfie - they’re not listening they don’t care," she said. "We need to talk to boys and girls about respect in their relationships, and the trust you are endowed with when a partner sends a personal photo."

"There needs to be far more discussion and support around victim-shaming. People don’t believe girls when they said they feel violated. They feel like they've made it up and they're exaggerating," Catherine added.

"We have to be careful when we’re discussing issues around cyber behaviour, assault and abuse. We need to be mindful of the language we choose, and very careful that we’re not blaming the girls for the actions of others."

Featured image: iStock

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