Boys are attacking girls in the school playground, but nobody is listening

Australia's problem of violence towards women begins in the primary school playground.
Australia's problem of violence towards women begins in the primary school playground.  Photo: Getty Images

My nine-year-old daughter was attacked by a boy at school yesterday. He hit her so hard in the arm with a large stick, leaving it badly bruised and swollen, she needed to be taken to hospital for an x-ray. Fortunately it was not broken.

Her older sister last year wasn't so lucky. A boy at school kicked her in the hand so hard he broke one of her fingers. She ended up missing half a netball season, couldn't participate in school swimming and missed out on several activities at school camp as her injury healed. She felt rightly angry this happened to her while the boy who attacked her went unpunished for several weeks. He was eventually made to write a letter of apology, which he then whined about to my daughter because it inconvenienced him. He remains unremorseful.

I wish I could say these incidents were the only times my daughters have been assaulted by boys, that they are an anomaly, a little blip.

In the last week of school in December, my girls were walking home when a group of four boys from the neighbouring Catholic school decided two little girls from the "povo" government school needed to be reminded of their place in the world. The girls came home scratched and bruised: the younger one had the contents of her bag up-ended and the Christmas cards from her friends torn up, leaving her in tears. I promptly contacted the school, and the principal was horrified, but so far these boys have gone unpunished because my children didn't know the boys' names and they could not be identified from the girls' descriptions.

I'm expecting some people to say "Oh well, they shouldn't have been walking alone!" and I would urge you to pull your heads in and stop victim blaming. Anyone walking on a public street is not "asking" for violence. Adult women have to deal with this nonsense too: we should be allowed to walk on the streets, day or night, free from harassment, free from fear of being assaulted.

Yes, girls hit boys too, or hit other girls. But my girls haven't experienced brutal violence at the hands of other girls so far in their lives. And if I found out my girls were assaulting others, regardless of gender, I'd do a little thing called "parenting" and ensure there were consequences for their actions.  This I think is the crux of the issue.

On two separate occasions, I have had angry fathers come to my front door to tell me off for asking their sons to leave my daughters alone. Both boys were around 11 or 12 when my girls were half their ages.

One incident involved an unsupervised boy crashing my then six-year-old's birthday party in a neighbourhood park, harassing the girls in attendance and obnoxiously interfering with the party games. The other time, a boy on a bike stopped out the front of my house where my daughters and their friend were playing, and began swearing at them and threatening them.

A stern "Excuse me, mate, cut it out and go away" from me each time is not acceptable, according to the two angry dads I dealt with. In a nutshell, I was told these boys have the right to roam the neighbourhood, doing as they please, and how dare I say anything at all about it. I wish I was joking about this.

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What they showed me is my style of parenting (not allowing my kids to roam around and harass others in public and having them be accountable for their actions) is not a universal approach. There are some parents out there raising entitled little kings. Their special children should be allowed to do whatever they want. Consequences should not apply to them.

Coming to the front door to intimidate the woman who stood up for her daughters? That's just further modelling how you treat girls, isn't it? It wasn't their mothers coming to speak to me. It was the blokes coming round to sort out the mouthy sheila and put her back in her box.

What happens as these boys become boyfriends and husbands? I am shocked they are already so violent and disrespectful towards girls at these ages and dread the future. Will the violence continue? Will it escalate? Will they think it's okay to hit their girlfriends and wives? Will today's boys attacking girls walking home from school become tomorrow's young men attacking young women walking home from a nightclub?

It is frustrating that a child can so badly assault another child – even to the point of breaking a bone – and nobody will take it seriously. Nobody is reclaiming the streets, or primary school playground. It's just "kids being kids".

If my husband kicked me in the hand and broke it, I could and would have him charged with family violence.

If a stranger on the street attacked me, especially if he had the gall to do it in broad daylight, it would make the news.

If an adult broke a child's hand or attacked a random child on the street, we would expect them to be punished.

Children doing these things to other children? Everyone just shrugs.

My daughters have just as much right as any women not to be assaulted or harassed. Just because their attackers are boys in primary school doesn't make it okay. It is never okay.

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