They wanted to know why I did what I did.
Well sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world.
Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
There has been much written about the recent ugly incidents at Toronto’s St. Michael’s College School involving young teenaged students and their sports teams, the most serious allegation being that one boy was pinned down while fellow students videotaped him being sexually assaulted with a broom handle.
Here are some of my takeaways on this story.
- The victims. How do we help the boys who didn’t invite these actions upon themselves? They will need the love and support of their families, friends, counsellors and community to overcome this and hopefully go on to happy futures, not overwhelmingly burdened by these scars. They should bear no guilt or shame, it was not their fault and they did not deserve it.
- The alleged offenders and criminal justice system. Many of the students alleged to have been involved have been charged with criminal offences and expelled from school. What happens to them? If they are found guilty in criminal court, the Judge will have the difficult task of balancing various sentencing objectives, including the following:
- denunciation – reflect society’s abhorrence of the actions;
- deterrence – send a message that serious punishment attaches to this type of behaviour to deter both these specific offenders and the general public from future similar conduct;
- reparations and responsibility – can the boys do anything to “pay back” the victims for the harm done and demonstrate genuine remorse and acceptance of responsibility?
- rehabilitation – there will be a special emphasis on this principle, given the young ages involved. What can be done to ensure these boys learn and emerge as better people, to help ensure they never do something like this again?
- Hazing and Initiation Rituals. One thing is clear: we need to eliminate the negative rituals that are far too common with many sports teams and fraternity and sorority type organizations. The emphasis needs to be on safe, positive and voluntary events that celebrate and welcome new teammates and members, not actions that seek to humiliate, scare and potentially harm them. Coaches and leaders of these organizations must outlaw and strictly penalize this behaviour.
- St. Michael’s College School. It appears the school is genuinely being proactive and seeking answers. But, regardless of how one feels about St. Mike’s, the reality is that people have been doing awful things to each other since the beginning of time, and a look today at our busy criminal courts suggests this isn’t going to stop anytime soon. It could have, and does, happen elsewhere, all too often. What St. Mike’s needs to ask itself is, “is there something unique in our school’s culture that made something like this more likely to happen within our halls?” If so, it needs to fix it.
Springsteen’s spiritual and healing words to America after 9/11 are fitting for the St. Mike’s community now, as they struggle to make amends, heal, improve and move forward:
Come on up for the rising,
Come on up, lay your hands in mine.