Women picket to end sexual grooming and abuse of students

Last Tuesday at midday a few women assembled in front of the Bishops’ High School calling for the removal of the school’s head Winifred Ellis. It was one day after an audio recording of Ellis, apparently addressing female students of the school during assembly, was publicly shared. In the recording she accused the students of being “slack” and “loose” in their conduct and admonished them for not standing and defending an alleged sexual predator who has taught at the school for years.

Business and Economics teacher Coen Jackson, accused of sexual grooming and entering into relationships with female students, has been sent on administrative leave as the Ministry of Education investigates the allegations.

I spoke to some of the few women who braved the midday sun to hold placards and call for Ellis’s removal and for Jackson to be investigated and charged.

Below I chronicle their reasons for being on the picket line.

Elsie Harry (University of Guyana’s 2017 valedictorian): “I am a former student of the University of Guyana and I know what it is like to have somebody in authority to try to use that power to get sexual favours from you. And so I was totally disappointed, totally outraged and I know there are a lot of students who are not as strong as I am to say ‘okay I don’t want this leave me alone.’ So I am like I need to come out and show solidarity with the students who were brave enough to come forward and with all the other citizens who are outraged by this.”

I asked her thoughts on Ellis’ utterances. “I am totally disappointed in her. I think she needs to just do us all a favour and just pack and go home because you are in the position where you are supposed to protect your students. You are their first line of defence and the first thing you should have done when you hear about the allegation [was] to go and investigate it… And when you see the things on social media instead of saying to you students ‘I am proud of you for coming forward, I support you’ you castigate them for doing that? I mean I am totally, totally disappointed. I never met her. I have never been to this school, but I am totally disappointed.

Past student of Bishops’ between 2006 and 2011 who declined to give her name: “[I am out here] because I am a past student of the Bishops’ High School and I support every claim to fire Sir Jackson, fire Ms Ellis and fire the entire senior staff at Bishops. These head teachers they are notorious for covering up things, they are notorious for giving the female the wrong 100% of the time and they always protect the boys of the school, they always do it. So there is no way that justice could ever be served at Bishops’ even if somebody had come forward. So if you had come forward with an allegation like that you would now be in their burn books and they would be targeting you for the rest of your school years. And I think it should stop now with all this publicity on the matter and a thorough investigation should be done into the school especially where the senior teachers are concerned.”

Simone Bazil: “I am out here because it actually happened to me when I was in school and the funny thing is today I just told my parents before I left that it happened. I am a huge advocate for children so anything you see happens with a child and there is any type of injustice against children I get personally attached to it. Most of the time I don’t know the children [she became emotional at this point]. But this is the school my daughter aspires to go. I have a daughter in the school system… School is the only place I am not with my daughter and if I have to worry about that when she is in school then where [is she] safe? I am just out here to support the group and at the same time from what the headmistress said victim blaming seems to be a thing. Victim blaming and victim shaming seems to be a thing and that is why a lot of kids do not come forward and stay silent. In my case I didn’t report it because I was smart enough to get myself out of the situation within seconds and I just put it behind me because it didn’t really affect me emotionally… But I know it does happen and you know I actually completely forgot about it and this brought it back to the fore front…”

I asked her if her emotion stemmed from her still being affected by what happened to her in school.

She responded: “I am emotional because of how you have to worry about these kids so much. Like why can’t kids be kids? This is not one child, this is not two children, it is a lot of children and this is not the only school and this is not the only one. So I wished more people would have come out to support this. And the other thing is why does there always have to be a protest in order for people take action? And where is the PTA on this?” she questioned.

Mosa Telford: “I am out here because I am upset with what has happened. I can’t say I am surprised because things like these have been happening forever. When I was going to school you know you heard the rumours and so about the teachers. So I am happy that it is actually coming to light, it is about time, the time is long overdue. But what I am also hoping is that we don’t just talk about it for a couple of weeks and then it is swept under the table like a lot of other things that happen in this country. I am hoping that this is start in the change of the culture of silence that we have in this country because a lot of times we know these things are happening and because we want to keep up appearances or because of this body or that body it is swept under the carpet.”

Josephine Whitehead: “I am here to protest against yet another instance of sexual abuse of minors and the appalling statements of the headmistress, another instance of victim blaming.” The audio for this comment was very poor but Whitehead, a well-known lawyer who was instrumental in helping to craft the 2010 Sexual Offences Act, also called for the reinforcement of the Act and the Domestic Violence Act.

She also expressed disappointment at the poor showing of protestors and pointed to the parking meter protest which saw hundreds of persons turning and proffered that persons maybe more concerned when they are affected economically or that they prefer hundreds of persons so that they can blend in.  “Unfortunately, people come out when it affects them directly,” she added.

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