This article titled “Chile: students force closure of Santiago schools over sexual harassment and violence” was written by Charis McGowan in Santiago, for theguardian.com on Sunday 27th March 2022 11.00 UTC
Student strikes have forced a string of school closures across Chile’s capital amid growing anger over sexist and violent behaviour only weeks after the country returned to in-person classes after two years of Covid-19 lockdowns.
“The demand is to stop the harassment,” said Javiera, 17, who was one of hundreds of girls to join protests outside the prestigious Santiago Lastarria school, after male students were found swapping intimate photos of their female classmates on Instagram. “We are demanding justice for victims, and for schools to stop protecting abusers.”
In the chats, the boys allegedly discussed gang-raping their fellow students and claimed the notorious “wolfpack” case in Pamplona, Spain, as “inspiration”.
Screenshots of the conversations circulated among female students in several Santiago schools, who organized the protest in solidarity with the affected students. The Lastarria school was closed for two days and the culprits have been suspended while an investigation takes place.
The district’s mayor, Evelyn Matthei, launched a support helpline for schoolchildren affected by gender violence and has pledged legal action. “These threats are a crime that warrants action beyond school protocols,” she said in a press conference.
Javiera believes a firm response from authorities is necessary. “Maybe [the schoolboys] haven’t caused physical harm to anyone, but such talk can often lead to something worse.”
Physical attacks have also taken place in Santiago’s schools this month. Last week, a 14-year-old was reportedly raped in a classroom by an older student during a lunch break. Students and parents staged protests outside the school’s locked gates, pelting the building with rocks while demanding explanations.
“I put my trust in this school and they return me a daughter who has been raped,” the girl’s father bitterly told a local news station. A statement from the school’s management confirmed the institution’s temporary closure to allow time to investigate “the very serious situation at hand”.
According to the government’s education department, schoolchildren’s sexual harassment complaints have increased by 56% in 2022 compared with the same period in 2018. A Unesco report concluded that Covid school closures across the world have had gendered impacts on children, “which may also increase their vulnerability to … gender-based violence”.
Valentina Carrasco is a 21-year-old student activist who has been fighting for sexual education reforms since she was at secondary school. She believes that the pandemic has exacerbated cases of gender violence in Chile: “Young people were at home for two years without seeing people, now they’re in classes again and everything has exploded.”
She believes the only way to remedy the country’s schooling crisis is to improve education. “Now more than ever we need inclusive sexual education programs that talk about consent and sexuality within a socio-cultural perspective.”
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