PETALING JAYA: Two psychologists and an academic have warned that the period spot checks experienced by some students could see them suffering from mental health issues, such as depression and low self-esteem.
Social psychologist Ananthi Al Ramiah said such checks could cause great stress to students, whether experiencing the checks or witnessing them.
This creates an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, she said.
She said teachers and administrators, who are supposed to create an environment of mutual respect, trust and safety, are instead teaching children that their bodies are not inviolable.
These teachers and administrators, she said, are taking away “the integrity and ownership of the students’ own bodies”.
“In other words, we are teaching them that if an adult touches you in a way that you don’t want and that makes you uncomfortable, you should just go along with it, because these are your ‘trusted’ teachers,” Ananthi, who is also the director of Dataluminescence Research, a research house, said.
She said this could set children up to be susceptible to greater abuse in the future.
In the immediate term, she said, it can turn children off school, even for those who have not gone through such spot checks.
“Why would a child want to go to school knowing that at any point they could be violated?”
Ananthi said such checks are “extremely damaging” in terms of how the two sexes perceived it.
Boys may begin to feel that a girl should not be taken at her word and that others have a right to check the veracity of a girl’s report in a way that violates her, she said.
“This can, therefore, also be extremely damaging for boys and the way in which they relate to women in the future.”
For girls, some of whom may already be facing a range of challenges concerning menstruation – such as pain or irregularity – this kind of fear and potential humiliation can lead to them developing a negative attitude towards menstruation and their own bodies.
Clinical psychologist Dr Chua Sook Ning said based on what the students had described, what they went through was “very stressful” and research showed that it could increase the risk of mental health conditions.
Apart from depression, she said, these students could suffer from anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders.
“Experiencing such negative events at a young age is associated with poorer mental health and substance abuse when they reach adulthood.
“Children and teenagers who go through such experiences also have greater difficulty coping with other stressful situations,” she told FMT, adding that there is a danger that these negative effects could likely be long-term ones.
Deborah Hall, professor of positive psychology at Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, said the teenage years mark a spell of intense physical, mental and emotional development.
Youths, she said, are working out who they are and where they fit in the world, with girls, in particular, being self-conscious about their bodily changes during puberty.
Hence, it is not surprising that they should be distressed by a traumatic physical experience that could negatively affect their self-esteem, she said.
“It would be natural for feelings of shame and humiliation to follow from such an experience.
“Moreover, across the world, menstruation is a taboo subject that societies tend to avoid openly talking about.”
Hall said that if an adolescent girl felt she had no one to confide in about a traumatic experience, such shame and humiliation could leave lasting emotional scars.
Meanwhile, former education minister Maszlee Malik said the period spot checks by teachers at schools are “degrading and uncalled for”.
It should have never happened anywhere, especially in learning institutions.
“This is clearly a violation of one’s privacy and constitutes physical harassment and abuse, and using the excuse to do so in the name of discipline and education is unjustified in any pedagogy, culture, religion or norms,” he said in a Facebook post.
He said such practices are a disgrace to the community and must be stopped and condemned.
Yesterday, FMT reported the accounts of Malaysian students who revealed the torment they faced in public schools, including “period spot checks”, sexual harassment and public shaming.