Abuse and Schools - What is the Way Forward?
By Claudine Ribeiro - Director of JPCCC
Since the beginning of 2019, we have been inundated with headlines that speak about the very real issues of abuse in our society. Most prevalent are cases where the teachers at schools are themselves the perpetrators of these heinous crimes involving pupils. Other cases speak to the role that schools must play when abuse or potential abuse is disclosed to a member of the school community.
We all experience a collective shame at the notion of child abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual), where it is so awful to imagine that an innocent child can be made the victim of such anger, or warped needs. It is hard to believe that sexual abuse of children exists, and yet the statistics speak for themselves. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that our schools are safe places, and that the appropriate steps are taken to eradicate this scourge.
Schools are often seen as a second home for children. Their role goes well beyond the traditional function of academic instruction, and the school and its teachers become so much more to each child that goes through its doors. Johannesburg Parent and Child Counselling Centre (JPCCC) works in 42 schools across the city and in Soweto, which is testament to the fact that many educators see beyond the academic needs of the child, and want to offer something more holistic, where the child’s emotional and social well-being is also a priority, where learning can also be about interaction, socialization and relationships.
But what happens when the school becomes the site of abusive behaviour? This place of trust, the second home, immediately takes on a sinister and frightening persona, and the learner who is affected will no longer feel safe or nurtured in this environment. Detachment, self-doubting and self-loathing, and much emotional turbulence can be common responses to such experiences. This can only be exacerbated by a school decision not to ask the staff member/fellow pupil to leave, not to suspend, not to investigate.
Equally important is the role the school should and must take when any form of external abuse is reported on the premises of the school. The school cannot shirk this responsibility. By disclosing, the child has taken a courageous and enourmous risk, and a leap of faith, hoping that the school will take action on their behalf. The abuse victim will take a long enough time to heal from the actual abuse, but how much more will this be an issue if the school decides not to act, a form of secondary abuse. The school is no longer safe, but a scary place, where trust has been broken, when sinister collusion is experienced by the child.
The law is unequivocal on this issue, and school management has a legal responsibility to report any form of abuse disclosed on its premises. School governing bodies and all management teams within the school environment need to be aware not only of their legal responsibilities, but also of the quest to eradicate child abuse, to take a firm stance against it, in the form of supporting the abused, and not the abuser.
We ask a lot of our children. We want them to be courageous, to excel, to work hard and to be honest. They will play their part, if we as adults play ours. How can we expect our children to grow up as healthy, trusting individuals when we have deceived and ignored them at their most crucial time of need?
It is understandable that this is a scary process. We often don’t want to believe this of a person, we don’t want to make a mistake, we don’t want to confront. In addition, sometimes the pathway is unclear, and at other times, cases don’t get followed up on even if reported. However, none of these reasons are enough to justify the non-reporting of abuse. It is important for schools to also join the fight for better social service delivery.
The need to act however, all goes well beyond schools. We need every member of society to be on board with this, as well as the other important systems that play a crucial role in this process of eradication, including child protection organizations, the police, the legal system, and social development, to play their part and become more reactive to cases of abuse. We also need more training of specialist members of the police in these areas. We need a clear and supportive pathway for all parties once the abuse has been identified and reported.
We have all witnessed scandals around abuse within trusted religious organisations, and they have been criticized for protecting the perpetrators, for not being decisive and unequivocal in their actions to stamp out sexual abuse by clergy. We must therefore ask ourselves, within our own environments, are we doing everything we can to take a stand, and take decisive action?
What is required is for each member of society to stand up and be counted. There can be no tolerance. Let the perpetrator be punished and not the victim.
Johannesburg Parent and Child Counselling Centre - “We’ve had it up to here with Child Abuse”. It’s time for it to stop. Report Abuse and as a nation, let us rid ourselves of this scourge.
JPCCC is running a workshop on Activating Child Protection on 15 March 2019. This is an opportunity for mental health professionals, schools and school counsellors, churches and organizations to understand the process of reporting child abuse, and how to ensure that children receive the appropriate support after disclosure. See www.jpccc.org.za.