Courage rewarded

2014-07-08 00:00

IT takes a brave man, woman or child to report abuse and those who are prepared to go public and to stand up for themselves are to be applauded.

It is only when crimes, including rape or any other sexual abuse, and indeed, bullying, are held up to public scrutiny and perpetrators are held to account, that the damage they cause to the victims’ psyche and, in turn to society, can be limited.

According to the Rape Crisis website, police crime statistics in September 2012 revealed that 64 514 sexual offences were reported country wide the previous year. It was estimated that in reality, the figure could be as high as 500 000 incidents nationally.

Reasons for non-reporting are said to include fear and intimidation, lack of access to services, humiliation, psychological trauma, reluctance to cause pain to loved ones, the fact that offenders are often known to victims, and negative financial consequences.

Last month, The Witness reported on a case where two men who were sexually molested by the same primary school teacher at Richmond as teenagers, finally found the courage after 21 years to lay charges in a bid to gain closure and come to terms with the traumatic events in their lives.

Surprisingly, neither of them was aware that any of their peers had suffered the same abuse — even though they might have suspected it.

The incident was so shameful and embarrassing to them that they could not speak about it to anyone.

Instead, they buried it in the recesses of their minds, but in the end it had a profound effect on both their lives.

One of the victims eventually “cracked” under the strain of suppressing the secret, and it was only after bringing it out in the open and undergoing counselling that he was able to come to terms with it sufficiently to lay a charge with the police. He has since moved on with his life, but feels that what happened will always be part of him.

The other survivor of the sexual abuse became an abuser himself, which is reportedly a common occurrence in such cases.

He told The Witness that it was only after four years of “court-ordered” therapy as part of his sentence for sexually molesting two young girls, that the dark secret he was harbouring came to light.

He hopes that after finally coming out with the truth and confronting his abuser, who finally admitted his crimes, that he can move on to a “normal” life with a wife and family.

The KZN Education Department acted swiftly by suspending the teacher concerned, Robin Radley, within days of him pleading guilty to two counts of indecent assault in a Pietermaritzburg regional court.

In his plea explanation, Radley blamed the incidents on the “emotional turmoil” he was experiencing at the time over being gay, which he said was frowned upon by society.

He said he had felt ashamed of what he did, and gave an assurance that he had not repeated the crimes.

But this is most likely of little reassurance to the parents of pupils who entrusted their children to his authority over the past 21 years, despite the fact that by all accounts he was regarded as a talented teacher.

In similar vein, parents of pupils at Voortrekker High School in Pietermaritzburg have been shaken by the recent reports (by The Witness journalist Jeff Wicks) that have surfaced about violent initiation ceremonies carried out by senior boys on newcomers in the school’s hostels.

Again it appears that the cycle of violence was viciously repeated every year, the abused eventually becoming abusers themselves.

The details were withheld even from the parents of the victims, who feared retribution.

The actions of a mother and her 14-year-old son in coming forward and reporting the bullies will surely save future generations from having to endure similar torture, and will result in a happier school environment which is conducive to producing pupils with a well-rounded education that ought to include compassion towards their fellow human beings.

Hopefully, their courage will be justly rewarded, in the knowledge that they made a difference to others.

South Africa is a country where crime and violence are far too rife, and clear lines need to be drawn to enable our future leaders to know right from wrong.

• Ingrid Oellermann is the court reporter at The Witness.

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