Witness #24 | Puteri Nuraaina Balqis
(On behalf of Save The Schools MY)
I am Puteri Nuraaina Balqis, the founder of Save The Schools MY, a platform to empower former and current victim-survivors of rape culture, sexual harassment and abuse experiences to speak up, anonymously. I am by default a media executive, but education-related issues have been one of my strongest passions to date. I strongly believe in empowering children to know their bodily rights and autonomy, and that everyone plays a part in making schools a safer place.
When I came across Ain Husniza’s viral TikTok, where she shared her experience encountering rape jokes, I was seething with rage for a few days. More and more former and current victims were speaking up on Twitter too, but most of them were dismissed by enablers online — mostly through misogynistic remarks — regardless of their gender. Even before the TikTok clip, there was already an uproar on the period spot checks that are taking place in schools, affecting only Malay-Muslims. There were debates everywhere already, but the hashtag #MakeSchoolASaferPlace elevated the conversation.
The final straw for me was when a group of teachers allegedly spread the rumour that Ain is autistic, and therefore none of her words should be taken seriously. This rumour was a combination of ableism, ignorance, dismissal, and betrayal coming from authoritative figures in schools. I was telling myself that maybe society needs to hear more of these stories, so they will realise that this is not a one-off social media trend but, rather, a deep-rooted sexism that needs to stop. So, I set up a Google Form and an Instagram account, and I received 30 stories within the first 24 hours.
As at today, I have received 788 submissions and platformed 520 stories on the page. The response has been overwhelmingly positive; even I did not foresee it would go so far. Former and current victim-survivors from all types of schools poured their hearts out, and some of the experiences only came to light after I set up the platform. For many of these survivors, it was their first time disclosing (albeit anonymously) the violation and trauma that they experienced. The oldest person who shared a story was a woman in her sixties.
I started collaborating with AWAM [All Women’s Action Society] to provide them with these testimonies for analysis. AWAM will be compiling their analysis and findings into a report and sending it to relevant stakeholders.
Among AWAM’s findings are that:
(1) Sexual harassment alone comprises 70% of 1,145 reported incidents of violence.
(2) The number of sexual harassment incidents involving only female survivors was 16.6 times more than those involving only male survivors.
(3) Figures of authority in schools alone made up 41.1% of all perpetrators.
You may ask how I know these are not made-up stories, but as a woman I know it is difficult to talk about the violence in our lives, so when women share their experience, I believe them. It is a grim statistic and reality, that one out of three women has experienced violence — this data is from the United Nations. Given the prevalence [of violence faced by women], I accept these stories to be true, just like the ‘Me Too’ movement, where women share stories anonymously.
There are many horrifying true stories on this Instagram page. There is one story where a former victim-survivor was stalked. The stalker was one of her schoolmates, who followed her home — he apparently took a bet. She almost got raped, but when the perpetrator was caught and brought to the nearest police station, he walked out freely. The next day in her school, the perpetrator was there as if nothing had happened, and the entire school blamed the victim-survivor for the incident. The principal allegedly swept it all under the rug to maintain the school’s reputation as one of the top 10 high schools within the region at that time.
There is also a story where a female high school student was groomed into an intimate relationship by a married ustazah [female teacher of Islamic religious studies]. When the ustazah’s family knew about this, both the spouse and children harassed the student, set the cops on her and threatened to take legal action against her. As a result of all this, the survivor lost her friends, and later her source of income. The experience put her through multiple suicide attempts, and she is on medication for her trauma.
Period spot checks are also very common — almost one or two stories will pop up in every 10 stories submitted. There is one submission where the victim shared how she was humiliated in a morning assembly, together with a few more female students because their periods were in sync, as they were paraded as liars by an ustazah in the school.
There are a few things that I noticed from running this Instagram page:
(1) There's a common pattern shared by these stories: survivors who tried to seek help were dismissed by the authority (parents, teachers or counsellors). On the other hand, the victims faced backlash either by teachers, other students or the entire school.
(2) There are very few incidents where the victims were empowered by their teachers or parents, which is very worrying. There are also a lot of survivors who never talked about [the incidents] at all, not even to their parents, and the platform was therefore the first to hear their stories.
(3) Figures of authority come in multiple forms at school: they could be a teacher, principal, hostel warden, and even school guards, van drivers, and canteen staff.
(4) There is a tremendous lack of bodily autonomy among the students, as the adults always act in an authoritarian manner towards them (e.g. period spot checks, because unless it is proven otherwise, the students are lying).
(5) The current school environment is not listening to the students enough; most of the time it appears that the schools care more for their reputation instead of the students’ well-being.
(6) Perpetrators usually get away very easily.
I will continue highlighting these stories and offering my page for survivors to share their stories so that, at the very least, they know they are not alone.