Teacher arrested for child grooming

Allegations of sexual victimisation of children have surfaced at a second southern suburbs school after police this week confirmed a 49-year-old primary school teacher was arrested on child-grooming charges in April.

This follows the Tatler’s report last week (“Rape shock at girls’ school,” Tatler, June 2) about the arrest on May 26 of a 52-year-old maths and science teacher for allegedly raping a pupil over the course of several years.

Soon after the publication of the report, the paper was contacted by a concerned source who revealed a teacher at a southern suburbs primary school, the identity of which is being withheld to protect the alleged victims, had been arrested in April.

It is alleged he groomed several children, which is a crime under the Sexual Offences Act.

“Grooming” involves preparing a child to take part in sexual acts, either by making friends with them, buying them gifts or showing them pornography.

Police spokeswoman Captain Angie Latchman confirmed the man had been arrested on Tuesday April 12, and had made his first court appearance on Wednesday April 13.

“The complaints were brought against the teacher by several learners. He was granted bail of R600 and will make his next court appearance in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court on June 24,” Captain Latchman said.

Contacted this week, the school principal said the man had been teaching at the school since January.

“We reported the matter and followed all the necessary procedures. We also notified the relevant authorities,” he said.

The principal said the school had strong pupil support structures to deal with incidents of this nature.

“We will now wait and see what happens (with the outcome of the case).”

In 2014, Cape Town teacher Duncan Phillips was sentenced to 18 months in jail, suspended for four years, for sexually grooming a 14-year-old boy. After connecting via Facebook, the substitute teacher and boy had initially spoken about school and sport, before the child’s mother discovered a message of a sexual nature on the boy’s phone.

Learning of the 49-year-old teacher’s arrest this week, Patric Solomons, director of child rights NGO Molo Songololo, said he was pleased police and prosecuting authorities were starting to act on all facets of the Sexual Offences Act.

“The law now looks at all aspects of child exploitation, not only the sexual act itself. This means that it is also applied to what takes place before the act is committed,” Mr Solomons said.

“The law protects children from sexual behaviour or situations. For example, showing children pornography or getting them to behave in a sexual way would be viewed as a criminal act. At Molo Songololo, we have seen many instances where children are targeted in internet chat rooms and asked to send videos or photos of themselves behaving in a sexual way.”

He said grooming could also apply to situations where children were exposed to “flashing” (showing of genitals) or even stuffed animals being arranged to simulate sexual positions.

“Too often in the past individuals have only been prosecuted for the actual offence, and not the actions that have led to the act. How this often starts is there is a process of giving and receiving goods in return for sexual favours. It could be anything – a lift or the chance to eat at a nice restaurant. Basically, offering any reward can be seen as exploitation of children.”

Mr Solomons said the legal definition of sexual offences was now very broad, but there were still adults who “made excuses” and claimed they were not aware of the law when they engaged in grooming practices.

“I think what is significant is that police are starting to investigate cases that were previously seen as grey areas, which is a welcome development.”

Last year, research by the Youth Research Unit of the Bureau of Market Research at Unisa found that a third of pupils (31.4 percent) encountered people who had tried to get them to talk online about sex against their will. In addition, almost a quarter (22.8 percent) of the 1 500 pupils who took part in the study had been asked online to perform sexual acts.

Disturbingly, the study showed that only a third (31.8 percent) of pupils who had experienced online sexual grooming had reported the incident.