“I was 12, I didn’t know any better,” says former Miriam student on her teacher’s grooming

Content warning: The following story details accounts of grooming, sexual harassment and fat-shaming

#HijaAko is ushering an unprecedented moment in the country, where women are being emboldened to call out abusers and the institutions protecting them, similar to how #MeToo in 2017 led women in Hollywood to expose powerful men for their sexual harassment. Recently, students and alumni of Miriam College High School in Quezon City spoke up about their own experiences on Twitter, with many of them using the hashtags #MCDoBetter and #MCHSDoBetter. 

Many pointed out the school’s alleged double standards, accusing them of being lenient with accused teachers but extremely strict on the student body. According to students, these were the things that could get you expelled: short, gender nonconforming hairstyles, and even appearing in sex videos that were nonconsensually leaked.

For many, the hashtags are eye-opening because they illustrate how widespread sexual harassment and grooming are in schools. Andrea, a 23-year-old alumni of MCHS shared with Preen.ph: “When I experienced it in first-year high school, I felt isolated and I didn’t really know of other cases. I didn’t know a lot were experiencing it,” she said. “It was a surprise to me that a lot had experienced it and a lot were speaking out. Back then I couldn’t even tell my classmates or my friends what I had been going through. That was a decade ago.”

Andrea recounts her own experience with her former grade school teacher, who she alleges preyed on her when she was 12 years old and a high school freshman. It started with him texting her. “I know I even asked at first if it was ok [for him to text me] because I wasn’t used to a teacher regarding me very casually and he said, “Graduate ka naman na ng grade school.”

“He kept texting me. At first, it wasn’t anything discomforting, just him asking about my day, getting to know me more, asking about my preferences. I wasn’t used to stuff like that and I think he knew. It was easy for him to establish a connection with me because I didn’t have many friends and I was really a low-key student. I know he began being very sweet, making me feel special. 

“I was 12. I didn’t know better talaga.”

According to Andrea, he would continue texting her over several months, and even gave her two books, “Lolita” and “South of the Border, West of the Sun,” both of which portrayed romances between the adult protagonist and the underage love interests. “He would send me texts like I want to kiss you, I want to taste your lip balm, stuff like that, because he knew I was into flavored lip balms. When he touched me physically and I felt I didn’t like it, he tried to explain na if it feels good for him daw it must be right. He would always try to explain and say, ‘You don’t know anything kasi about relationships.’

“I tried to talk to my guidance counselor about it. That was my moment of courage, 13 na ako nun. But they didn’t believe me, and they even said I was the one who was ruining his life and reputation. So a 12-13 year old is a conniving slut but an almost middle-aged man who is in a position of power and has nothing to lose by exploiting me is innocent?”

Sexual harassment and predatory behavior weren’t the only allegations that emerged. A mother shared with us her daughter’s experience of fat-shaming in school. She alleged that her daughter’s teacher told the class that being fat meant you won’t be successful, and when they reported this to the dean, they were only met with this response: “So ano po mangyayari? Every time may magsabi mataba anak niyo, manunugod kayo?”

Many pointed out that this reckoning was long overdue. “It’s appalling that people like me have to wait for these kinds of opportunities to even be heard. 10 years,” Andrea said. “For years, I couldn’t even tell my story because their words ring in my ear: ‘you’re a liar.’”

“I want to talk about it [now] because I’m scared for the girls who are being groomed and don’t know it, or who will be targets in the future. For my whole high school life, I felt I was the bad girl. I was the one who tempted him, teased him. That’s why I was disgusted with my being a woman. But that’s exactly how they want to make you feel. I can’t imagine someone else going through what I went through. No one deserves that.”

#MCDoBetter has also emboldened students from different high schools to speak up.

MCHS has since released a statement on these allegations. “We heard and we listened to the pain- anger- frustration-driven Twitter messages on the purported inappropriate behavior of a few male teachers in our High School through the years,” an open letter by the school president entitled “MC’s Commitment to Truth and Restorative Justice” on the school’s website reads. “Please be assured that we have promptly initiated investigation of these reports and will take appropriate steps to resolve the situation.”

The letter also said that the school does “not want our students to fear retribution nor faculty members to fear lack of due process when cases such as the ones tweeted about are raised,” and that they are forming a committee “called the Justice, Truth, and Reconciliation Institutional Committee that will initiate a serious review of the cases in the past and the resolution of these cases. This institutional Committee, independent of any existing committees will also look into and act on the current cases, if any, and to recommend appropriate steps.” 

“I wish to assure everybody that Miriam College will do better as it moves forward,” the letter read.

Preen.ph reached out to Miriam College for a response but has not yet received a reply.

 

Header photo courtesy of Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

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