Michigan School Defends Showing Graphic Video as Discipline to Students Who Brought Sex Toy to School

A stock image of an empty classroom.
A stock image of an empty classroom.Getty

The video in question, which shows images of torture and abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, is a 25-minute Ted Talk titled "The Psychology of Evil."

A Michigan school system is defending its decision to show graphic images featuring detainees at an Iraqi prison being tortured and abused as a disciplinary measure to five male students who were caught bringing a sex toy to school.

“Sometimes you have to ask people to be uncomfortable to get to the place where the deepest reflection, connection, and learning happens,” Superintendent Rick Reo of the Paw Paw Public Schools said in a statement to Inside Edition Digital.

Five male students, three of whom are 18 years old and two of whom are minors, were given a choice to participate in what the school called a “restorative discipline process” in lieu of suspension, during which they were shown a 25-minute Ted Talk titled “The Psychology of Evil.”

With the intention of demonstrating how easy it is for good people to turn bad, and vice versa, “The Psychology of Evil” shows graphic photos taken from the Abu Ghraib prison, once known as terrorist Saddam Hussein’s torture chamber.

The infamous Ted Talk was delivered by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, whose work in the controversial 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment has been criticized.

Reo explained in a statement that the “ugly and graphic” video was shown because “certainly to a lesser extent, the behavior of the students’ was ugly and graphic.”  

The behavior in question related to one school day where the five boys had allegedly brought a dildo to school, a school spokesperson told Inside Edition Digital. A mother of one of the boys confirmed they had brought a sex toy to school, according to local news station WWMT.

According to the spokesperson, the boys were allegedly “waving it around in proximity to people” in more than one instance. “These boys were engaging in inappropriate acts with this particular device and using it as intimidation to kids,” the spokesperson said, describing their alleged behavior as “aggressive”. “It was offensive to a lot of people.”

The mom who spoke to WWMT expressed concern to the school administration over the subject matter the following day, and said that it could have been triggering for at least one of the students who she claimed had experienced prior abuse.

The school’s spokesperson told Inside Edition Digital the video was shown to the students as part of a carefully planned lesson by the school district’s curriculum director, who is trained in and has extensive experience designing lessons about traumatic events in a sensitive way.

That mom, who was the only parent in attendance during the screening, said there had been no discussion following the showing of the video, according to WWMT.

The parents were aware of the boys’ actions and the students and the parents were told ahead of time that part of their reprimand would involve graphic images being shown, the school said.

The school, however, is regretful that they didn’t allow the parents to preview the video in advance, or share details of what the imagery would entail, and has apologized to the parents about the incident.

“The goal of getting students to reflect on what happens when behavior escalates without somebody stepping up to stop it, and the trauma experienced by individuals targeted for sexualized violence, is ugly,” the superintendent said in a statement. “For students leaving high school just a few months from now, we have a small window to make a big impact that can change the way a person thinks.”

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