Some time ago, a Singaporean friend whom I’ll refer to as “Towel,” and whom I got to know through this blog met with a case of assault by another teacher at the school he teaches at. I actually got to know Towel’s wife, Laksa, first and then met him. There’s a story to their nicknames but it’s not the point to this post, so I’ll skip it.
The case of assault was reported to the school principal and could have been contained within the school by simply getting the attacker to apologize. However, the attacker refused to apologize and what did the principal do? Since the attacker doesn’t want to apologize, she said she couldn’t do anything and asked Towel to let it go. How’s that for an institution of education?
Towel didn’t want to let it go and told the principal that if she’s not going to do anything about it, he’ll file a police report. At this point, it is normal to expect the principal to try pacify Towel and/or do her best to resolve the case by getting the attacker to apologize. Not only did she not do that, she actually told Towel to go ahead and file the report.
Towel was taken aback and decided to go ahead with the report. Shockingly, after Towel went to the police, the police told him that since it happened at school, they couldn’t do anything and referred him to the school’s board of education.
As directed, Towel brought the case up to the board of education who responded kindly that the teacher shouldn’t have done that but they said the same thing that they can’t do anything about it.
For Towel, since no one
was willing to could do anything, he was left with two options. 1) officially sue the teacher by engaging a lawyer, 2) let it go. The logical part of Towel made him choose to let it go. But Towel, and even I, was flabbergasted at the lack of interest and motivation by the school to try to contain the issue. All parties, including the police, shunned responsibility by claiming they couldn’t do anything and referred Towel on to someone else. This is like Gokusen all over again where school teachers simply ignored trouble makers or students who refuse to turn up at school because “once they graduate, they will be someone else’s problems.” The mantra is 明哲保身. Play it safe; protect yourself; avoid trouble.
Towel gave me permission to share the incident report he submitted to the school below. But for privacy purposes, words/phrases that provide possibly identifiable information will be replaced with “<xxx>” at my own discretion. People’s names will be replaced with such single capital letters as “<A>” to provide easy following of the situation.
While I do not think I’d have the same maturity and courage to do what Towel did, and while I also definitely do not wish this upon any of you, I surely hope that everyone will be brave enough to stand up for themselves in such cases like what Towel did.
Power harassment and assault by <A>
I went to the <xxx> gymnasium on <xxx> during the <xxx> period on invitation from my homeroom students to join them for their dance class. I walked into the <xxx> gymnasium with my outdoor shoes and took about two steps farther than the start of the “No outdoor shoes limit” to peer into the gymnasium to check if my students are in the gymnasium. I noticed my students are not in the gymnasium and proceeded to move to the next gymnasium to join my class.
<A> was holding his <xxx> class in the gymnasium and he came barreling down towards me and commanded me to freeze. He then proceeded on a tirade about how I was breaking school rules. He spoke very fast and very angrily in Japanese but I think I understood correctly the gist of what he said. I was very shocked by his sudden outburst and decided against confronting him. I promptly made my way out to go join my class in the other gymnasium.
He moved to block my exit from the gymnasium and use his hands to push against my chest. When confronted with such emotional outburst and physical harassment, I reminded him that we are professionals and all issues can be settled amicably without the use of physical force. Yet, he ignored me and continued his outburst and use of physical force to restrain me. My back was to the gymnasium but I assume all the <xxx> students witnessed how I was repeatedly manhandled and verbally abused by <A>.
When I eventually made my way out of the gymnasium, he pulled on my hand and shoved me 3 times and pinned me against the wall outside the gymnasium. I was frightened but I continued my call for him to refrain from the use of force and reminded him how we should behave as educators. It was at that time that he demanded that we bring the matter to the Principal.
He proceeded to grab my right arm and shove me. With one arm on my left arm and the other shoving me in the back, he kept pushing me forward while keeping a firm grip on my right arm. I was embarrassed, shocked and frightened. All the time, I kept reminding him how we should behave professionally but he persisted in his ways. I tried to resist his pushes but I was also afraid that he would turn more violent, so I did not put up a strong resistance. I asked for him to unhand me and assure that I would follow him to the Principal’s office but that too, fell on deaf ears.
As we entered the <xxx> building, <B> – the <xxx> department Head teacher came out of the Teachers’ space and witnessed what <A> was doing. I do not remember him saying anything to us or attempting to do anything to free me from <A>’s abuse. <A> led me to the door of the Principal’s office, promptly opened the door and shoved me towards the sofa. He proceeded to sit across me and began another tirade, at the top of his voice in a tone that I was later informed, was rude and inappropriate to a fellow teacher or a human being. He did all this in spite of the fact that the Principal <C> was there and witnessed everything. <A> began to explain to the Principal the rationale for his anger. I remained silent fearing that anything I would say might further aggravate him. <C> asked me to excuse myself while she spoke to him.
I left the Principal’s office shell shocked and proceeded to the <xxx> gymnasium to join my class for dance practice. I was emotionally and psychologically destabilized by what happened but I wanted to be there for my students. I did not tell anyone about what just happened and just joined in for the dance practice.
After the dance practice, I walked to the <xxx> building and sat myself outside the Teacher’s space. It was then that the Vice Principal, <D> found me and requested that I go discuss the matter with <C>, in her office. I recounted the incident to them and it was consistent with <A>’s account of the event. <D> then asked how I wanted to resolve the matter. Everything happened so fast and I had no time to consider my next step but I told him that I needed <A> to apologize for his verbal and physical abuse, and also to issue a statement saying that he would not repeat his actions again to me or any other member of the staff. Both <C> and <D> then went on to explain the aggravating factors that lead to <A>’s outburst and stated that <A> demanded that I apologized to him. I promised <C> that I would be careful in the future not the make the mistake again and I do not mind making the apology. With that, the meeting ended.
Later in the afternoon, after the closing ceremony, around <xxx>, I went to <D> and told him that I am frightened for my safety in this school and I wanted the school to take actions to ensure my safety. Otherwise, I feel compelled to bring the matters to the police. I am reluctant to do that as I thought about how it would adversely affect the standing of the school and probably cost <A> his job but I also had my own safety to think about. <D> brought the matter before <B> and <C>.
Later in the evening, around <xxx>, I was called into the Principal’s office to discuss the matter with <B>, <C> and <D>. The Principal mentioned that she disapproves of <A>’s high-handed actions and state very clearly, that she hopes the matter can be settled amicably between me and <A>. There was no specific mention of what the school would do to ensure my safety in my place of work and what discipline measures will be taken against <A> to correct his thoughts and actions. I was also informed that although <A> expressed shock at his own behavior, he did not think that they were overboard or wrong.
My primary concern is my personal safety in the workplace and since the School leadership, <B>, <C>, <D> were not able to take actions or suggest steps to undertake to assure my safety, I informed them that I would then have to report the matter to the Police. I suggested to them that I would forgive <A> if he were to submit both a written and a face-to-face apology never to engage in power harassment and use of force against me or any staff member . I would also require that the school issue an official letter censure of <A>’s action and make a record of the matter. This I felt would be sufficient safeguard for me to ensure that <A> would not repeat his actions again. The decision to file a police report was not an easy one but in light of the fact that foreigners are a minority in the school, we do not know of any other avenues for help in situations like this, I cannot speak nor understand the Japanese language well, I am in a foreign land with no visible protection in my workplace against a man who has just verbally and physically harassed me, I finally decide to bring the case to the police.
I have never experienced this type of treatment in my life and I never expected to receive such treatment from a teacher. Especially not one who had years of teaching experience, is tasked as the Head of <xxx> and discipline and is a <xxx> head for <xxx> students. With no censure of his actions, no demand that he apologize for his actions and no guarantee for the safety of the victim, it will only embolden <A> to persist in his willful actions. Having to work in a place where close contact and communication is necessary would cause further distress to me and jeopardize my safety in the workplace.