Students who took upskirt images must be forgiven

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By: Michael Han

What do you do when students as young as 13 to 15 years old take upskirt videos of their teachers?

You investigate of course. Bring the students to account. Punish them for the infringement. Then, you provide counseling sessions for them. Reintegrate them back. That’s what you do.

The goal is to rehabilitate them via firm and patient guidance. Let them see the errors of their ways. Let them learn from their mistake. Bring them back into the fold. And remind them that they are not incorrigible or beyond reform. That reminder has to sink into their soul.

In a recent incident, seven young boys “were found to have taken pictures and videos with their smartphones and 23 others received or shared the images.” They were duly caned but one was sadly expelled from the school for repeating the offence.

While the school did the right thing to keep the matter within the school, instead of going to the police, I think the expulsion needs to be reconsidered. Of course I do not know the full facts and the school may have her reasons. But expulsion really does not solve the problem (at least for the student in question). It gives the impression that the school has washed their hands over that one student.

One clinical psychologist Dr Carol Balhetchet said, “He’s going to go somewhere else and do the same thing. You’re not solving the problem: you’re postponing it. (Expelling) him is just transferring the problem to someone else. If he’s doing it just to gain confidence within the peer group, then he needs to find alternatives to gain confidence.”

Another senior consultant psychiatrist Dr Munidasa Winslow said, “A lot of them don’t think about the effect on women, or that what they are doing is disrespectful to women. Their (acts) of upskirt video-taking are usually a part of “thrill seeking” or for their own emotional stress release.””

Lesson? Just one, and one of the encouraging signs of this episode is that “the teachers have spoken to the culprits and forgiven them. Parents told The Straits Times that their children said a prayer and reflection session was held before the caning.”

Forgiveness, reflection and a prayer will go a long way in the healing process. That’s what makes reconciliation so empowering when teachers lead the way by showing the students not only the magnanimity of spirit, but also the willingness to understand, accept and move forward. That kind of lesson can’t be learned in a classroom or taught in a textbook.

Of course, the students will still have to be punished, but the point here is how reconciliation is carried out. Is it carried out in a way that protects the young offender, that is, his self-worth, his hope and his yearning for understanding and acceptance, or is it carried out in a way that deals with the offence firmly, but then makes no effort to distinguish the person from his offence?

It is one thing to publicly shame the students by caning them. However, open forgiveness, reflection and a prayer imbue meaning, encouragement and hope in the disciplinary process. But it is another thing altogether to go further and expel him – thereby allowing the wound to fester in private self-condemnation.

I feel that you lose the child when you take him (or her) out of positive socialization or reconciliative circulation. The trite statement here is that we all make mistakes (regardless of our age). What is less trite (or obvious) is that the mistake does not define us – it really doesn’t need to.

For this reason, we need an inclusive community especially in the context of young offenders whose conduct are often less thought out and more impulse-driven.

I therefore resonate with these words of Archibishop Desmond Tutu: “To forgive is not just to be altruistic, it is the best form of self-interest.”

And by “self-interest” I take it to mean as the best form of mutual self-healing for the hated and the hater, the victim and the offender, and the target and the culprit. It enlarges and reinforces the feedback loop of recovery, forgiveness and restoration.

And forgiveness is all-embracing for in its words and deeds, it seeks to remind the offender that the errors of his ways do not (and will not) define him. In other words, it empowers him to make positive changes by leaving his past behind, instead of allowing his identity to merge with it.