24 May 2012
Lawyers against Abuse (LvA) and SECTION27 are horrified by the pervasive and endemic sexual violence perpetrated by staff against learners in South African schools. We are particularly concerned that we are seeing a systemic failure to protect and respect the victim and to punish the perpetrator in such cases. We call upon the justice system, the police, the Department of Education, the South African Council of Educators, trade union movements and teachers and management to whom this violence is reported in schools across the country to improve the response to this violence and to cease protecting teachers who commit acts of sexual violence against learners.
Within the last six months, LvA and SECTION27 have dealt with a range of cases where a teacher or another member of staff has raped one or more of their pupils. Victims are both secondary and primary school age. The nature of the abuse perpetrated is often at the extreme end of the spectrum. We have dealt with the following situations: learners abducted at knifepoint, drugged and mutilated; exam papers and memoranda exchanged for sex with young girls; humiliating physical abuse in the classroom in front of other learners; teachers who have been convicted for multiple rapes of students being released on bail and allowed to continue teaching; victims and their families reporting this abuse who have been physically threatened, intimidated and harassed by gangs of armed men; and learners who are suicidal due to victimisation from staff and students.
This situation cannot continue. Victims of sexual violence in schools are failed not once but twice. Firstly, those responsible for their education betray their trust and violate their dignity and their right to freedom and security. Secondly, the system fails to treat them with respect, make arrangements for dealing with their trauma appropriately, and punish the perpetrators.
There is a culture of impunity amongst perpetrators due to the lack of an appropriate response to this violence. Perpetrators feel free to rape and mutilate young learners as there are no consequences. When their crimes come to light, they often threaten, intimidate and bribe their way out of punishment.
Teachers to whom these incidents are recounted are failing to comply with their legal obligations to protect learners and to report this violence, often keeping this abuse to themselves or trying to persuade the learner not to report the case further. False rewards such as being moved up a class or financial gain are offered to try and silence victims. If the abuse is finally reported to the provincial Department of Education or the South African Council of Educators (SACE), these organisations often fail in their duty to conduct prompt and thorough investigations, often failing to do anything at all. Those investigations that are initiated take a very long time, and often require the victim to recount the experience in numerous disciplinary hearings and fact-finding missions with few or no measures to minimise the learner’s trauma. At times, there is even more than one investigation being conducted by the same body, due to a lack of communication and a failure to be aware of the trauma this causes victims.
Police are reluctant to deal with these issues and often attempt to persuade victims to drop their case. Police are also subjected to bribery and intimidation to force them not to investigate. The courts are also failing to protect victims. Court staff often encourage the signing of inappropriate ‘peace letters’ between victim and abuser, refusing to allow the victim the chance to get a protection order and be heard by a magistrate. Court staff even try and mediate between young victims and abusers, refusing to allow the victims proper representation, which results in intimidation and the case being dropped. Even if victims can get to court, they are often subjected to inappropriate and invasive questioning and their applications for protection orders are often rejected.
Victims end up having to give statements to a range of different people. They are forced to give evidence in a number of forums, and they are unable to get on with their lives. They fall behind in school and often leave school with few qualifications. Many are forced to drop the charges as they simply cannot face dealing with the process of getting the teacher suspended or convicted. They are then left to face the wrath of the perpetrator alone and unprotected. It is this situation that is driving many victims to despair and even suicide.
We call on the police, the courts, SACE, the national and provincial Departments of Education, trade union movements and teachers and management to comply with their obligations under international law, the Constitution, and South African legislation to effectively protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice. Furthermore, we call on the government to develop an integrated and effective systemic response that does not further victimise the learners involved.
For further information contact:
Jennifer MacLeod (LvA) 011 717 8456 / 071 280 firstname.lastname@example.org
Nikki Stein (SECTION27) 011 356 4118 email@example.com
The Nisaa Institute for Women’s Development
Women & Men Against Child Abuse
Centre for Applied Legal Studies
Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre
The Teddy Bear Clinic
Justice and Women
National Association of School Governing Bodies
Women’s Legal Centre