Melanie Sheppard.

If If We Don't Fight For Our Kids, How Can We Expect Them To Fight For Themselves?

If If We Don't Fight For Our Kids, How Can We Expect Them To Fight For Themselves?

As featured in Huffington Post 21st July 2016

I like to think of myself as fairly hard to shock. As a writer I have researched and interviewed people on subjects ranging from incest to suicide all the while remaining objective to tell the story.

But this weekend my resolve to remain objective on an issue that became public was tested because it involved my daughter and I made it public.

On Friday evening I was alerted to the fact that a group of year 11 students from an elite private boys school had set up an Instagram account. The purpose of the site was clear; to humiliate young girls, or “young sluts” to which they were referred. The members of the Instagram account were encouraged to rate the girls and give feedback.

My grade six daughter was featured in one of these photos as she walked after home after school with her friends. There she was, my precious girl in her school uniform as boys referred to her using vile language, objectifying, sexualizing and violating her without her knowledge or mine.

The photo was brought to my attention by an older girl at my daughters school. If not for her, maybe I would have never known about it. Maybe it would just go on as their collection of young unsuspecting girls grew.  But it didn’t.

They messed with the wrong girl.

I gained access to the site - they were not discerning as to whom they let in, and I proceeded to take screen shots of every single person following it. I sent this information, the photo of my daughter and the captions underneath in an urgent email to the school principals.

I went on to profile the people involved, their families and their friends so that I had a clear understanding of who I was dealing with. At 4am on the Saturday morning I decided to report the matter to the police and alert my community. I wrote a Facebook post outlining what had happened without naming schools or the boys and as I suspected, it went viral. It was shared hundreds of times on Facebook and then by the media all over Australia, the UK and the US.

The school held an urgent meeting with the ringleaders of the site and both were put on an indefinite suspension pending a final outcome. Today we learnt that the boys were no longer students at the school.

Both of the ringleaders were key football players for their school, a revelation that didn’t surprise me. Both on sports scholarships, the played in the highest league for the school and gained high accolades for doing so.

In the captions they wrote under the girls photos the terminology used was reminiscent of the expressions one would expect to hear on the footy field. They referred to the girls as “prime candidates” and entered them into a “slut draft” showing how influential the sport is to their life.

According to social researchers Peter Mewett and Kim Toffoletti, footballers "think that being footballers means that they must derogate women" and that "this performance of masculinity manifests not only in physical actions, but also in the verbal discourse used by footballers to discuss women".

On the field these boys achieve kudos for their prowess, gather self-esteem from their achievements and are part of a pack, a team with a shared code of understanding.  Then they take this construct off the field and use the same language, the protection of “the pack,” the entitlement to “chase down.”  To them, girls are a competition like sport. They depersonalize girls by referring to them as “sluts” so that they can be perceived as objects to be conquered, used and then forgotten about. 

What these boys need to realize is that sport is part of life, it isn’t life. When they leave school, no one will care how many goals were kicked or what team a person played for. What a person is judged on is how they represent within society and what they can do to enhance it.

As a woman I am feeling a deep empathy for the mothers of the boys involved. How could I not? No mother wants to hear that her son has been the instigator of such a vile act.

Since this story has come to light, the feedback that I have received has varied. There has been a lot of praise as people have perceived me as being strong and brave to take on the ‘old boys club’ on my own. Others, while appalled at what has happened, have urged me not to. “You’ll never win,” said one woman within the community, “don’t waste your time”.

The truth is, I am a sensitive woman and I hate conflict, but the one thing I hate more than conflict is injustice. I was not going to be silenced nor was I going to be intimidated. These boys compromised the safety of my child, a little girl that I have spent her entire life protecting. The moment I saw that post I became like lioness ready to take on anyone to protect her.

It will take time for her to fully heal from this. She has been exposed to a seedy side of life way too young, however I will make sure that this is just a small bump in the journey of her life.

I was asked in a radio interview if I had a message for the boys, what would it be. My hope is that they learn that the sexual objectification of women perpetuates a deeply entrenched culture of misogyny that we have worked so hard to fight against. The patriarchal culture is over and anyone who fails to recognize this will be left in the dark ages where the culture originated.






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