A change in values is needed to fight sexual abuse in schools: Fedsas

14 March 2018 - 17:15 By Ernest Mabuza
Image: 123rf/Dirk Ercken

Rooting out sexual abuse in schools would require a change in how schools are run‚ and a change in society’s values.

This is according to the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas)‚ who said a multi-pronged approach was needed.

The organisation was responding to the report that a police officer tasked with investigating allegations of sexual assault at a Soweto school on Monday allegedly forced two of the 87 victims to undress in a classroom and molested them.

But this isn’t the only reported incident of sexual assaults in school premises in the past few months.

In October last year‚ a school patrol officer was arrested and charged with three counts of rape and numerous counts of sexual assault after he was accused of sexually assaulting at least 87 girls at the same school where the Monday incident allegedly occurred.

Early last year‚ a former Parktown Boys’ High School assistant sports coach was charged with sexually grooming more than 20 learners aged between 15 and 16.

Fedsas deputy CEO Dr Jaco Deacon said that‚ about six years ago‚ the federation embarked on a project to change schools from being rule-driven to value-driven schools to address issues of discipline‚ bullying and sexual assault.

“Rules are a quick-fix solution to societal problems but are not truly effective in addressing problems faced at schools‚” Deacon said.

He said values created a new culture for schools.

“Every school can decide on its values. One school’s values could be respect and care for another‚ while another’s value could be responsibility‚ loyalty and honesty. Those discussions should take place in those schools.”

He said it was important for school governing bodies to create channels for complainants to report bullying‚ assault and sexual assault and that they should be provided with support‚ whether they were educators or learners.

“We need to make sure that if we put people in charge‚ those people are properly equipped‚ vetted and fit and proper to deal with children‚” Deacon said.

He said “bad apples” were found in every sector‚ be it in the education‚ social work or policing sector.

“If people abuse trust relations‚ the full might of the law should be used and they must be removed from the school system‚” Deacon said

Deacon said installing cameras in schools might assist to detect wrongful behaviour but cameras should be part of a bigger plan to change behavioural patterns

“Cameras in schools are a norm in developed countries.”

He said the cost of installing the cameras was prohibitive‚ but it was a worthwhile investment.

“Where cameras are installed‚ there is drop in misconduct.”

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) said it was morally and legally unacceptable that children had been let down by the people they trusted the most.

“We can never condone such behaviour and we call on the law to take its full course and put the perpetrators behind bars.

“Installing cameras may assist but they are not a deterrent. We would like to see these cases investigated and resolved speedily and harsher sentences imposed on the perpetrators‚” Sadtu spokeswoman Nomusa Cembi said.

She said most of these cases dragged on for too long.

“Justice delayed is justice denied. These incidents are increasing because we don’t see the perpetrators being brought to book‚” Cembi said.