Violent threats and harassment mar the first month of school

Physical assaults, harassment of female students, and even rape have been reported in recent weeks in Chilean schools, some of which have even been obliged to shut down for several days. Experts believe this is due to a poorly-organized return to classrooms and pandemic-related disruptions. It is unknown what authorities plan to do in response.

Several schools have had to shut their doors in the last few weeks due to threats of violence and instances of harassment. All this comes only a few weeks after some schools returned to in-person teaching following two years of Covid-19 lockdowns and remote learning.

An anonymous video posted on social media threatened widespread violence at Benjamín Franklin Industrial School in Quinta Normal. In the video, a robot voice threatened a “school massacre” on Apr. 4 and that “classroom by classroom would be eliminated.” Although there is no proof such an act was ever planned, school officials took no chances: they filed a complaint with the Investigative Police (PDI) and shut the school down for several days.

Many students have also taken to the streets in recent days to ask for stronger measures against harassment and violence in schools, which have reportedly increased. Biobío, for example, has registered at least four cases involving weapons in schools in the last month.

An increase in gender-based harassment

A Unesco report also claims there has been an increase in violence against girls across the world since the beginning of the pandemic due to school closures and remote learning.

Student from the Lastarria High School and surrounding schools in Santiago staged a protest last week to condemn the acts of a group of boys from the school, who had exchanged explicit photographs of their female classmates and discussed gang-rape online. The protesters demanded stronger action from the school in order to put a stop to these forms of harassment and help girls feel safer at school. The school closed for two days while investigations were being conducted.

“These threats are a crime that warrants action beyond school protocols,” Providencia Mayor Evelyn Matthei told the Guardian. Just last week, another female student was reportedly raped by a fellow student on the premises of her school in Renca (Santiago). “Young people were at home for two years without seeing people, now they’re in classes again and everything has exploded,” said Valentina Carrasco, a student activist who was also interviewed by the Guardian.

An underlying mental health crisis?

The Unesco report suggests that “a large body of research documents adverse mental health outcomes during COVID-19 school closures, impeding learners’ ability to concentrate and learn and having broader short-, medium- and long-term impacts. Girls typically reported more stress, anxiety and depression than boys in many contexts, although boys were not immune to mental health outcomes; …. Increased isolation and anxiety among LGBTIQ learners were also reported.”

Any recent uptick in violence may very well be connected to the mental health crisis currently unfolding as a result of the pandemic. In Chile, data generated by the World Health Organization indicates that 16.5 percent of those aged 12 to 18 years old have some type of mental health condition and that the pandemic and resulting quarantines, lockdowns, and routine changes have exacerbated this phenomenon. 

It is unknown how authorities plan to respond to these circumstances.

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