Rape shock at girls’ school

JOHN HARVEY

The principal of a southern suburbs girls’ school has revealed pupils, staff and parents are “heartbroken” after a 52-year-old teacher was arrested for the rape of a pupil over a period of several years.

The maths and science teacher appeared in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court on Friday May 27, on rape charges. The state alleges the man had repeatedly raped the girl in a school classroom since 2014.

The teacher, who is also a father of two children, was not asked to plead and was granted bail of R2 000. Bail was not contested by the prosecution as he has no previous convictions or pending cases against him.

The matter was postponed to Wednesday June 29 for further investigation.

The identity of the school, which is known to the Tatler, is being withheld to protect the identity of the girl who is a minor.

“I can confirm that a case of alleged rape of a student by a senior school staff member has been lodged with the Claremont police,” the headmaster told the Tatler this week.

“We are working closely with the police in their investigation, and they have advised me that any further comment on the case or merits of the matter at this stage would jeopardise their case. The girl who laid the charges is being supported by family and counsellors.”

The principal said the teacher had been fully co-operative with the police and the school and had signed a letter of suspension.

As part of his bail and suspension conditions, he cannot enter the school property.

“We are heartbroken as a school family, and (we) will stand together and work tirelessly to work for justice and truth to prevail in this matter.”

The principal said: “We, as a girls’ school, strongly and decisively condemn all forms of violence and abuse, especially that against women and children.

“We fully endorse all the powerful messages that were highlighted during last month’s rape awareness campaign.”

Since the teacher’s arrest last Thursday, May 26, the school had reminded pupils of available support channels to raise concerns.

“The school counsellor and I have met with every grade over the past few days to ensure that they are supported and that all the girls are aware of the process and importance of reporting any inappropriate conduct,” the principal said.

Staff had also met with an outside counsellor and were receiving ongoing support, while the school was communicating openly with parents, staff and Old Girls, the principal said.

Patric Solomons, director of child rights NGO Molo Songololo, said it was a “big problem” that children were often too afraid to speak up against teachers who had sexually assaulted or raped them.

“The children feel that they are compromised because they are supposed to look up to their teachers, and, as a consequence, experience feelings of fear or guilt when molestation occurs,” he said.

“It really is a terrible time for them. In Cape Town, we have dealt with a quite a number of cases involving educators, and these relationships should be discouraged at all costs.”

Mr Solomons said it was vital for the Department of Education to put the interests of children first.

“Most teachers do the right thing, but what we would like to see are training programmes being rolled out to educators, so that they are made aware of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviour.

“Schools themselves should implement programmes so that learners are also made aware of the dangers they may face, and what action to take in those instances.”

He also highlighted what he termed the “difficult terrain” educators faced in terms of the legal age of consent.

“At primary school level, all children are afforded special protection, but the problem arises when pupils reach high school, particularly when they reach the age of consent.

“When they reach the age of 18, it becomes even more problematic, because then the pupils are classified as adults even though they are still at school.

“At this age, there are now blurred lines about relationships between pupils and teachers.

“However, above all, educators have an obligation and duty to teach their pupils. These kinds of relationships are a complete no-no.”

Yesterday, the results of the first-ever nationally representative study of child maltreatment in South Africa revealed one in three young people in South Africa has experienced some form of sexual abuse during their lives.

The “Optimus Study: Sexual Victimisation of Children in South Africa” was commissioned by the UBS Optimus Foundation and conducted by researchers from UCT and the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention.

The findings indicate that both boys and girls are equally vulnerable to sexual abuse over their lifetime, although the form of abuse often differs.

According to the study, 784 967 young people in South Africa are likely to have been the victims of sexual abuse by the age of 17.

When it comes to reporting incidents of sexual abuse to authorities, the study found that young people were unlikely to report these cases.

Only 31 percent of girls and no boys reported sexual abuse to the police. Young men are especially disinclined to report, across all categories of abuse.

Significantly, the study recommends school safety should be integrated into teacher training and schools’ life skills curricula, targeting issues of sex, gender and violence.