Underreporting of sexual violence by children in South African schools is the silent norm and little seems to be done to combat the situation, especially by their teachers. This is revealed by a recent research study conducted by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), attributing this underreporting to the negligence and lack of professionalism of teachers.
Lethabo Motloung of CVSR states that while this may not apply to all South African schools and teachers, some teachers don’t escalate these cases to the relevant departments because they don’t want to deal with the administrative work involved in the process. Also, the sense of shame surrounding the issue contributes to a reluctance to report. “School staff are not adequately trained on how to deal with sexual abuse cases, and looking at the work they have to do, they become despondent,” says Motloung. “There is a lack of support for teachers to help them help learners.”
Stats SA 2021 estimated that 1 in 5 children are victims of sexual violence in South Africa and the 2019/2020 annual crime statistics reported that over 24,000 children are sexually assaulted. It is estimated that 22.2% of school children have fallen victim to sexual violence, though the number of reported cases suggests it is much less.
The Western Cape education department spokesperson, Bronagh Hammond, says that there are only five alleged rape cases reported in 2023 thus far. These figures can be learner on learner or teacher on learner or other assaults after school hours on school property. “All teachers are subject to the SACE [South African Council for Educators] Code of Professional Ethics, and the disciplinary and reporting procedures that follow as a result of any contraventions. The Employment of Educators Act allows the department to take action against any staff member who engages in abusive behavior,” says Hammond.
The Abuse no More protocol, which outlines in detail the procedures to be followed in the event that a learner reports any kind of abuse, including sexual harassment or assault, states that learners are supposed to report to an immediate educator or principal, who is to take the issue to the police station and arrange counseling for the victimised learner.
Western Cape Education Department provides all teachers and learners a toll free hotline
0800454647 to report any form of abuse.
Go to the hospital as soon as possible (within 72 hours) of the assault to receive medication to help prevent the victim from being infected with HIV or falling pregnant.
Healthcare practitioners will need to do some tests to gather evidence against the abuser. Because of this, the victim should not take a bath or shower, or change their clothes after being sexually abused, as this would destroy evidence.
If clothes have been changed, the victim should take the original clothes with them to the hospital or clinic.
Report the abuse to the police as soon as possible after it happened. If possible, the victim should not go to the police alone. The victim is entitled to speak to a female officer, and need not be left alone with the officer. Note that, even if the victim takes a long time to report the abuse, the police must still investigate.