Education is one of the key Millennium Development Goals and it is critical to the development of South Africa’s democracy. The recent Jules rape case has brought the idea that our children aren’t safe in their schools to everyone’s attention. This case is particularly complex and horrifying because of the reported reactions of other learners and of the teacher entrusted with protecting children while they are in schools. Unfortunately, this one case is just the tip of the iceberg.
School sexual bullying is only one form of the bullying that children face in schools. According to clinical psychologist Rafiq Lockhart bullying in our schools is a general problem and has always been around. Lockhart thinks that bullying in any form harms the victim for many years to come because humiliation for a child is extremely painful and they are not well-equipped to deal with it. Similarly, those who observe it might not know what to do. Peer pressure is a powerful thing and many children would rather be part of a circle than outside of it and face bullying themselves.
Sexual bullying, which includes exhibitionism, sexual harassment or sexual physical contact, is a growing problem in South Africa which I argue has allowed a rape culture to persist. When we speak of sexual bullying we are speaking of our boy and girl children being exposed to early sexualisation, and harm. The problem with sexual bullying in particular is that it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It is founded in a system of problematic myths and norms about sex that children learn from adults.
It’s difficult to track the prevalence of this abuse, but a study by the CSVR suggests that school violence in general is a worrying trend in South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique. School sexual bullying is a form of violence that must be taken seriously by parents, and staff.
There are symptoms that you can look out for that might indicate that your child is being harassed or abused at school. When it is linked to sexual bullying, often these signs are non-verbal. Children can become withdrawn, significantly change how they dress, become hesitant about going to school or don’t want to tell you anything about their day.
NGOs like Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust are engaged in schools by conducting peer education training. This type of training helps to make learners aware of the positive social norms that prevent rape and sexual bullying, and can encourage learners to work together in negotiating their understanding of sex and sexuality.
But where do we begin? Well, the adage goes that change starts at home. If the youth of South Africa can’t tell the difference between sex and rape, then as Colleen Lowe Morna says there is something wrong. It’s not easy to talk about sex baby, but it must be done.
What else? How do you think we can tackle this problem? What role do teachers play? Where do we start? What do you think?
The only thing that I feel certain of is that if children engage in behaviour that is abusive in schools, and this behaviour is not corrected, rape and sexual violence will remain a problem in South Africa.