Mother ‘disgusted’ by Winnipeg school’s handling of sexually explicit email to 9-year-old daughter

A Winnipeg mother whose nine-year-old daughter got a sexually explicit email from boys at her school is accusing the school of downplaying, hiding and mishandling the situation.

She says she’s been pushing the Seven Oaks School Division, where her daughter is a Grade 4 student, for change since March, including establishing a sexual harassment policy and a process to follow in any future incidents.

“I was told that it was considered just a bad incident,” said the mother, whom CBC isn’t naming to protect the child’s identity.

In March, she got a phone call from her daughter’s principal, saying the girl had recently received a “sexually explicit” email from two Grade 4 boys, the mother told CBC News in an interview this week.

The principal said she had investigated the matter and had spoken with the boys’ parents, and the principal left the impression everything was fine, the mother said.

While she was initially told the email to her daughter’s school account was about the boys wanting to kiss the girl, the mother later learned the email was about more than that — it included comments about specific private body parts.

Principal organized meeting between students

In a followup phone call from the principal, the mother said she was told the boys had apologized to her daughter in an in-person meeting the principal had organized.

“Hold on a minute. You made my daughter go into a room with boys that had sexually harassed her? What are you doing?” the mother recalled telling the principal.

“Would you be made to go into the room with people who had sexually harassed you?” she said she asked the principal.

After pressing school officials multiple times to see the email, the mother said the principal finally produced a copy — with the boys’ names redacted.

A copy of the email has been provided to CBC. The contents were far more sexually explicit than she had been led to believe, the mother said.

“I was disgusted,” she said.

Her daughter is strong, but “in that moment that this happened, she lost power,” the woman said.

“She was taught to be a good little girl and do what people told her to do … to accept apologies from boys who had harassed her, instead of being able to say, ‘No.'”

Schools need sexual harassment policy: expert

The mother said she doesn’t believe school officials took her daughter’s case seriously.

She’s demanding the Seven Oaks School Division develop a sexual harassment policy for elementary schools that includes, for example, ensuring an advocate is with a child who has been harassed from the beginning, to make sure they aren’t alone in meetings and aren’t re-traumatized.

“You need to train your administrators so that if something like this happens again, and it will, then what are they going to do?” the mother said.

A Minnesota-based bullying and sexual harassment author and consultant agrees the school should have a detailed sexual harassment policy.

Woman with short hair smiles at the camera.
Susan Strauss, a bullying and sexual harassment author and consultant, says schools should have a detailed sexual harassment policy, including a process to follow when an incident is reported. (Submitted by Susan Strauss)

That should include definitions of sexual assault and sexual harassment, a process to follow when an incident is reported, and how schools will handle perpetrators and victims, said Susan Strauss.

“What I have found is that schools don’t really know how to prevent it … and if they do see it, or if they hear about it, they do not know how to intervene,” she said.

Although less common in primary schools than in high schools, sexual harassment among elementary-school-aged children still happens, said Strauss, who has also served as an expert witness in sexual harassment court cases.

Strauss agrees the nine-year-old girl should not have been made to endure an in-person apology or meeting with the boys, which could re-victimize her. 

“That was probably the antithesis of what anybody should do.” 

Schools prioritize respect, safety: superintendent

Seven Oaks School Division superintendent Tony Kreml declined CBC’s request for an interview, but in an emailed statement, said division staff work to build respectful and safe communities in their classrooms and schools every day.

“Our goal is to teach children to do the right thing, understand one another and learn from their mistakes,” Kreml said in the statement.

That work “will continue … as we teach our students to be respectful, considerate, and safe,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Grade 4 student wasn’t offered help from a social worker until her mother reached out to her school board trustee, the woman told CBC.

The girl continues to see a counsellor and is doing well, although her behaviour has changed since the incident, the mother said.

“I know that my kid is going to be OK,” she said, but she’s fighting “so much to ensure that kids are treated equitably and taken care of … because I know that other parents can’t do what I’m doing right now.”

Mother ‘disgusted’ by Winnipeg school’s handling of sexually explicit email to 9-year-old daughter

16 hours ago

Duration 1:57

A Winnipeg mother whose nine-year-old daughter got a sexually explicit email from boys at her school is accusing the school of downplaying, hiding and mishandling the situation.