Welcome to my Crime and Justice blog! I am a 19 year old criminal justice student at the University of Winnipeg. I advocate for prisoners' rights, human rights, equality and criminal justice/prison system reforms.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Charges in school sex abuse case

THE allegations at St. John's-Ravenscourt School are pretty much off the charts for the 50,000 students who board at 300 of the top elite private schools in North America.
"Criminal charges being brought against students is very unusual," said Pete Upham, executive director of the Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) from Asheville, N.C. "If what's alleged took place, it's awful."
Upham said that while private boarding schools have zero tolerance for hazing or bullying, he could not recall any cases in recent years in Canada or the U.S. that involved allegations and charges as serious as those at SJR.
Both SJR and Winnipeg's Balmoral Hall School for girls are members of TABS. "There's no such thing as perfect security. When you're working with young people, there's no absolute fail-safe way of preventing bad behaviour," Upham said.
Upham said boarding schools typically have two students per room, generally of the same age, if possible. There is both adult supervision on-site as well as senior students serving as proctors or prefects.
Schools vary from one supervising adult per three or four boarding students, to a maximum of about one per 30 students. These adults are often professionals who teach and/or coach at the school.
"Faculty and other adults live in the dormitories and directly supervise the dormitories," he said. "The standard practice is that primary on-site supervision would be by qualified staff."
An apartment-like residence would likely have an adult living on each floor, while a house-like residence would have a living unit set aside for the adult supervisor. Student proctors are there to help and to develop student leadership, but they are clearly to assist adults, not be in charge, Upham said.
Upham said he worked in private boarding schools for 12 years, living in the dorm. "There was a team approach," he said. Upham or another adult would set up a desk in the hallway until the dorm was locked up for the night, checking in on students and ensuring there were no problems.
Adult supervisors would carry cellphones for emergencies, and students could come to their rooms to get help at any hour of the night, he said.
The TABS website says such schools provide among the best educations in North America, attracting students more interested in working hard than the average student.
TABS considers boarding schools "college preparatory" schools -- experiences that better prepare students to go on to post-secondary, and treat students as young adults.
Balmoral Hall School officials did not respond to interview requests about the school's boarding practices and policies.
The Ontario-based Canadian Association of Independent Schools, to which SJR belongs, did not respond to an interview request.

‘Whatever happened was serious, they didn’t talk about it, and they didn’t talk about it for a long time, and that’s a problem’ -- Stephen Johnson, head of St. John’s-Ravencourt School
The allegations surrounding an elite private school in Winnipeg are not what you'd expect from a storied institution at which boarding students pay up to $40,000 a year to attend.
According to reports emerging from the well-groomed campus in Fort Garry, senior male boarding students at St. John's-Ravenscourt School forced younger schoolmates to the ground and held a stick up against their buttocks. Already, two students have left the school voluntarily after a disciplinary committee called for their expulsion.

 What happened at
St. John’s-Ravenscourt:
A timeline

Wednesday, April 7:
A day student tells a St. John's-Ravenscourt teacher about the alleged assaults, who then tells the senior school principal.
Thursday, April 8:
Four male boarding students are suspended in connection to the allegations.
Friday, April 9:
SJR parents receive a letter telling them they had information suggesting "students were assaulting other students in boarding." It instructs them "there is no evidence to suggest that this is part of any long-running hazing practice." The letter tells parents about the four suspensions, and that two of those students were referred to the school's disciplinary committee.
Wednesday, April 7 until Sunday, April 11:
School officials contact their legal counsel and parents of the children involved. The school's senior school principal conducts an internal investigation.
Sunday, April 11:
The senior school principal goes to a police station to report her findings.
Tuesday, April 13:
The school's head says he can't comment on allegations of sex assault, saying the incidents happened last fall involving a "range of behaviour (that) goes from bullying to assault." The police do not confirm a sexual assault investigation, but say the child abuse unit is in charge. Two boys leave the school after they appear before a disciplinary committee and school officials recommend expulsion.
Wednesday, April 14:
The Free Press reports there are at least two male victims involved in a sexual assault investigation. Reports emerge that as many as 15 boys were targeted last fall in a series of incidents. The school's head says there are at least four victims, but does not confirm the investigation involves sexual assault.
Two other male students are serving suspensions in connection to the incidents, which are making headlines across the country.
Child and Family Services will be looking into the alleged incidents that may have included as many as 15 victims, and an investigation by the Winnipeg Police Service child abuse unit is already under way.
Stephen Johnson, head of St. John's-Ravenscourt, said two Grade 12 students are no longer at the school after reports of abuse surfaced. Johnson said he could not comment on allegations boys were sexually assaulted with items like sticks, citing the ongoing police investigation.
"I have to stand back now and let (police) do their job, and not interfere, just support and do whatever they want us to do, and just hope that it will be done expeditiously," Johnson said.
"Everybody wants to know, especially the families of the kids affected in particular," he said.
Johnson said the alleged abuse happened during the fall term of the current school year.
He said he now must regain the trust of students and their families.
"Whatever happened was serious, they didn't talk about it, and they didn't talk about it for a long time, and that's a problem," said Johnson. "In terms of whether the boys were fearful of retribution, whether there was a code of secrecy, whether they didn't think adults would do anything, clearly something painful or awful was happening."
At least four male boarding students in grades eight, nine, 10 and 11 were victimized, he said.
Three alleged perpetrators are boarding students in Grade 12 and one is in Grade 11.
Johnson would not comment on reports from parents that as many as 15 students were victimized, or what allegedly happened to them.
"I think the challenge has been, with our board of governors and some of the parents who are big supporters of the school, or involved with our parents association, there's a real tension between how much to talk about and how little to talk about," he said. "Some of the people are very experienced in the business world, or in public life, where they know the role of the press, they know the role of information, and they know the power of reputation.
"And it's very difficult... to steer a middle course with the ultimate aim of protecting the kids and their families."
Johnson said CFS officials could be at the school as early as Friday.
"I'd like the police to wrap up their investigation tomorrow and say, 'Here, this is it. Done.' And we'll say, 'Fine, thank you.' And we'll use that as the basis for our further review, further study, further counselling support," Johnson said.
A four-day wait before school officials contacted police was not excessive, he said, adding the decision to involve officers was guided by a lawyer.
"I've erred on the side of being -- I'm sure it will be perceived as very conservative in terms of information release -- and that's all been done with legal advice about, 'You've got to protect the kids, you can't defame a student who hasn't been charged by virtue of a letter that suggests something, so don't say that or else his lawyer's going to be suing the school.' So I can't," Johnson said. "Nothing will be covered up."
Johnson said two of the boarding students will be finished their five-day suspensions today.
However, he said it's unknown if those students will return to live in the dorms. Officials are awaiting the results of the police investigation before they make that decision, Johnson said.
"There's a fair bit of concern among the boys... are they safe if these two guys come back," he said.
The school has about 50 boarding students. About 830 attend the school.
A letter sent to parents Wednesday said two students voluntarily withdrew from the school after the disciplinary committee recommended expulsion.
"We continue to provide counselling to our staff and students and review our procedures in house to make sure something like this never happens again," said the letter. Johnson said no parents have said they're withdrawing their students from SJR yet in light of recent revelations about the abuse.
Johnson said one boy, who is 18, did not bring his parents to the disciplinary committee meeting. The other Grade 12 student brought his parents, who live outside Manitoba.
"(The parents) are stunned... they don't know what to say," said Johnson.
"I said, 'You've got to spend some time with your son now. He's done some serious things.'"
Johnson said that indicates to him the evidence presented to the parents was "overwhelmingly compelling."
"Usually as a parent, you're going to fight for your kid's right to stay in the school," he said.

WINNIPEG - Four students from an exclusive private Winnipeg school face charges that include sexual assault with a weapon.
Police spokeswoman Const. Jacqueline Chaput said the suspects are between 16 and 18-years-old and are being held in custody. The alleged victims are in Grades 8, 9 and 10.

"The males have all been charged with ... sexual assault with a weapon, forcible confinement and uttering threats," Chaput said Thursday.
"The three youth suspects were detained at the Manitoba Youth Centre, and the 18-year-old suspect was detained at the Winnipeg Remand Centre."
Allegations surfaced last week that several younger boarders at St. John's Ravenscourt School had been abused in what one school official called organized bullying.
The four suspects are from outside Manitoba.
Chaput said the police child abuse and sex crime units continue to investigate and additional charges are pending.
Four students were suspended last week after the accusations were first raised. Two of the students withdrew from the school rather than be expelled. Everyone on both sides of the investigation is a boarding student.
The complaints go back to last fall.
St. John's-Ravenscourt has 830 students enrolled in classes from kindergarten to Grade 12 and boarding students in Grade 8 and up. Tuition fees range up to $37,000 a year.
The school says about half of its boarders are from outside Canada, including Chile, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Nigeria and Taiwan.

Secrecy is the lifeblood of abuse and breaking through the wall of silence is a formidable challenge. The experience of St. John's-Ravenscourt is not a new phenomenon for educational institutions, nor is it particularly surprising. It is instructive, however, for all schools, and especially for those with residential components.
The dismay of SJR's head of school, Stephen Johnson, about the time it has taken for the disclosure of attacks that allegedly took place last fall is understandable. The nature of the acts is grave -- four students are facing charges of sexual assault with a weapon and confinement. There were numerous victims. How could such abuse touch the lives of so many young boarders without word leaking out? The affair came to light this month when a day school student confided in a teacher.
SJR's experience, however, should spark introspection among all institutions that board, teach or have a duty of care for children. Environments where children choose to, or must congregate, are attractive to those who would harm them. The work to protect children must reflect the fact abusers wield an insidious power over their victims that engages a pact of silence.
This fact is part of the anti-violence education that has gone on in public institutions that cater to children. Manitoba's Safe Schools Charter demands all publicly funded schools have committees responsible for preparing protocol that informs the zero-tolerance policy for violence, including bullying. There is no requirement for a protocol to help children report, however.
The work there is tough slogging. It requires the building of relationships that give students who are preyed upon the strength to face down intimidation, embarrassment and fear of reprisal to disclose to an adult. That can be made easier by anonymous routes for feedback, such as drop boxes and chat lines.
It took a long time for SJR to hear of what may have been an organized attack on young boarding students. Prevention is a work in progress but key to stopping abuse is a sophisticated blend of education, anonymous reporting and trusting student-teacher relationships that defeats the pact of silence that protects the abusers.

No comments:

Post a Comment