More children come forward

2016-06-28 13:49
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Pietermaritzburg - Emotions ran high at the ­Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court on Monday among supporters of a school guidance counsellor who so far faces three charges of raping children and is under investigation for “10 to 15 more”.

Magistrate M. Boikhutso was told the man allegedly threatened his victims by telling them he would “kill their parents”, but now that he is behind bars, more children felt secure enough to open up about his alleged abuse of them.

The 31-year-old man, who according to the state’s charge sheet resides outside Pietermaritzburg, cannot be named until he has pleaded to the charges facing him because they are of a sexual nature.

He will spend this week in jail pending a formal bail application on July 4 after senior state prosecutor Patti David said the state is opposed to his release on bail.

The man was recently fired from his job at a local primary school.

The prosecution alleges that he took boys between the ages of four to nine years to his office and behind closed doors, fondled them and had “full blown sexual intercourse” with some, she said.

David said the counsellor allegedly targeted children who came from ­unstable homes or had problems.

The alleged abuse was discovered when a father asked his son about his school day and the boy revealed he had played a game called “monster touch” with his counsellor.

“The concerned father took the boy to hospital where it was found the child had been sexually penetrated,” said ­David.

A group of about 10 men and women who attended Monday's hearing did not make any secret of the fact that they were there to support the counsellor, ­although they did not want to disclose their identities or interest in the matter when asked.

Durban defence attorney Alistair Janssens told the magistrate that some of the people present were “school teachers” who came to support his ­client.

The group were later invited by The Witness to comment if they wished to do so but declined.

Several criticised The Witness for publishing Monday's front page article about the man’s arrest.

One man suggested there was no ­benefit to be gained from publishing “gossip”.

He added that even if the case against the counsellor were to “go away right now”, his career was already in tatters owing to the mere fact of his arrest.

David said the reason the state is ­opposed to bail is that police must still establish the man’s “profile” (personal circumstances relevant to the issue of bail), obtain warrants and search his premises, and interview the children who have come forward following the man’s arrest.

She said although the charge sheet on Monday mentioned only two counts of rape of two boys aged seven years and nine years, the man is in fact already ­facing three counts of rape currently with “more charges to come”.

“Ten to 15 more children have now come forward from the same primary school,” she said.

David said it is alleged the counsellor threatened his alleged victims by telling them he would kill their parents if they spoke out about the abuse. Now that he was in custody, they felt safe.

Janssens reacted to this by asking how it was possible these children even knew about his client’s arrest.

“He was only arrested on Friday … How could they possibly know he was in custody unless it is the modus ­operandi of the complainants to run out and ensure publicity for this case?” he said, hauling out a copy of Monday's Witness to show to the court.

Janssens suggested that the investigating officer in the case had a hand in ensuring the matter was publicised, but this was vehemently disputed by the prosecutor, who said neither the state nor the investigating officer was responsible for the newspaper article.

“It seems to have been a disgruntled parent who spoke to the newspaper,” said David.

Janssens told the court he was concerned about the way the investigation was handled because the police should “investigate first and arrest after”.

He also questioned why the investigating officer “didn’t investigate a similar previous allegation by the same child”.

He also wanted the court to hear the counsellor’s bail application on Monday, but Boikhutso told him this was not possible as the court diary was full. She said the first available date is next Monday, to which Janssens then agreed.

Janssens was scathing in court about the way the investigating officer dealt with the case, describing him as “evasive in the extreme”.

He said when the counsellor asked what the charge facing him was the policeman replied it was “rape” but refused to give details.

He added that the defence had not seen the charge sheet before court started on Monday and said they were also “taken by surprise” by the possibility of more charges.

His complaints prompted the magistrate to say that she agreed an accused is entitled to be made fully aware of the charges he faces.

Janssens also hinted in court that he was considering heading to the high court to apply for bail there instead of waiting for Monday’s hearing, but asked outside court later to confirm if he was planning to do this, he declined to discuss any aspects of the case with The Witness.

Reports that Jackie Branfield, founder of the child welfare organisation Bobbi Bear pointed fingers at the school and the Department of Education on Monday.

She asked if background checks had been conducted before the counsellor was employed. Branfield said the department had previously promised to release a list of ­teachers and other educational workers who have been convicted of sexual crimes, but nothing has been published to date.

Branfield suggested that officers should extend their investigation into other schools or organisations where the man had previously worked as, according to her, paedophiles are mostly “repeat offenders”.

“We need to make sure these children get justice. We cannot fail them. Apart from the act of sexual abuse, this is a misuse of power as teachers act in the place of parents,” Branfield said.

“Even though many more ­children have reportedly made the same accusations against this man, what about those who do not have the support and are still keeping quiet?”

Responding to questions ­on Monday, the school’s SGB ­chairperson confirmed the ­counsellor was dismissed.

“Other than assisting parents and pupils of the school, the ­Department of Education and the police, there is nothing further we can do from an employment point of view,” the chairperson said.

“We have already offered professional counselling, at the school’s expense, to all the pupils who have stepped forward and we will offer the same counselling to any other pupils affected by this matter.”

Speaking to The Witness ­on Monday, a KwaZulu-Natal based educational psychologist said the physicality of the games played ­during the sessions is not uncommon, but are used mostly in special circumstances and ethically, consent is required from the parents to engage with the child physically.

The psychologist said many ­children between five and eight years old develop their social ­interaction through imagination and symbolical play, using ­inanimate objects, is part of that.

However, the psychologist stressed that the parents should have been made aware of the methods of intervention being used, especially if physical play was involved.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  pupils  |  children  |  abuse

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