Schoolbook ‘justifies rape’

2016-07-29 11:52
A photograph of an exercise in a grade 10 Life Orientation text book has women's rights and anti-rape groups up in arms after it indicated in an exercise that a young girl at a party was to blame for her rape. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

A photograph of an exercise in a grade 10 Life Orientation text book has women's rights and anti-rape groups up in arms after it indicated in an exercise that a young girl at a party was to blame for her rape. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

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Pietermaritzburg - A Garde 10 textbook exercise indicating that a young girl’s behaviour led to her rape has outraged gender equality and anti-rape organisations across the country.

The Grade 10 Life Orientation textbook, called Focus, contains an exercise in which pupils must read a hypothetical “letter” written by a distressed teen who had been raped and answer questions on it.

The letter, by a young girl named “Angie”, said she lied to her parents and snuck out to a party with her friends.

Angie then writes that she and her friends had a few drinks before she was locked in a room with a youngster she did not know.

Angie’s letter said she banged on the door for her friends to let her out but no one heeded her call for help and she was raped.

In the letter she said she was scared to report the incident in case her parents found out and was scared that she could be pregnant, or may have contracted HIV or an STI from the rape.

The first exercise in the book pertaining to the letter reads: “List two ways in which Angie’s behaviour led to sexual intercourse.”

In a Facebook post, Yonela Palesa Moopelwa posted a picture of the text with a caption that strongly criticised the book’s content.

“DBE SA [Department of Basic Education] please explain how this book got approved to be used in schools,” she wrote in the caption.

“This is an extract from the current Grade 10 Focus Life Orientation textbook, page 179. This activity is teaching our kids to justify rape. How can this be allowed, in a country that already has horrifying rape statistics?”

Jes Foord — of the Jes Foord Foundation in Durban — who was gang-raped in 2008, said rape was never the victim’s fault “no matter what the situation is”.

“No one has the right to rape another person,” she said. “When we speak to school-going children on rape awareness we are very strong with the message to the youth that ‘No means No’.

“We have a special awareness programme that the foundation runs annually and it is aimed at young men in Grade 9 to help them understand how to be the young men that we as South African women need them to be.

“We are all responsible for teaching our youth what is acceptable behaviour in any situation,” she said.

Cape Town’s Rape Crisis monitoring and evaluation specialist Sarah Strydom said the exercise sent pupils the message that women and girls were “asking to be raped when they drink or otherwise ‘misbehave’ in some way”.

“This message places blame on the survivor for being raped and prevents him or her from telling anyone about it,” said Strydom.

She said it normalised violence against women and promoted rape culture, which could lead to survivors remaining silent.

Durban’s Open Door Crisis Care Centre director Thora Mansfield said the organisation found the question in the textbook “absolutely unacceptable”.

“No is no. The justification for actions that she was drunk, or even drugged does not give anyone the right to rape her; it is also against her human rights,” said Mansfield.

“Angie’s behaviour of not letting her parents know is a different topic altogether and should not be linked to the actions of the perpetrator.”

She said using the word “sexual intercourse” in the question suggested she was party to the act.

Mansfield said dealing with rape cases every day, the centre knew and understood there are deep psychological effects for victims.


THE Department of Basic Education responded that they had noted the concerns surrounding a page in the Grade 10 textbook.

“The content referred to is both unintended and unfortunate,” said the statement.

The department said the question: “List two ways in which Angie’s behaviour led to sexual intercourse,” raised “very serious misconceptions and stereotypes about rape”.

“The question refers to the incident as ‘intercourse’ which may confuse learners,” said department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga.

He said the department was aware that the content may perpetuate victim blaming.

“The objective in a subject as important as life orientation is to equip learners with skills to face life’s challenges.”“It is unfortunate that this particular section in the textbook is certainly not part of that.”

Mhlanga said content in school textbooks went through a “panel of experts” and was then reviewed by a subject specialist. “We cannot at this stage blame the subject specialists, we can, however, remedy the situation as we have done in the past,’’ said Mhlanga.

He said the department had written to the publisher to ensure the material was no longer taught.

“We encourage active, consistent critique of all teaching and learning material of all grades and subjects,” said Mhlanga.

“It is through these engagements that we can achieve the best quality of content.”

The department said a task team to further evaluate textbooks had been appointed to promote content that fosters diversity.

IN reply to the department’s apology, Mansfield said the damage has been done.

“The fact this was passed by experts brings to mind that perhaps they may not be familiar with the Sexual Offences Act, Domestic Violence Act and other acts that govern abuse against women and children,” she said. 

Strydom said she would want to know that the task team included experts on gender violence, and that the “textbook policy on promoting content that fosters diversity” would also focus on promoting equality, and perhaps even content that challenged accepted social norms.

Pietermaritzburg Child Welfare director Julie Todd said “apart from the use of the word, ‘unfortunate’ in the second sentence, it should perhaps be worded stronger as being ‘unacceptable’. The response by the department seems appropriate but it should revisit who exactly they are consulting as subject specialists on this matter,” said Todd.

She said any person with credibility in the child protection field or gender- based violence sector would have made sure this was never printed, because it sends out the wrong messages about who is to blame and because there is nothing addressing the alleged rapist’s actions.

Todd said the appointment of a task team by the minister to further evaluate textbooks was welcomed but will be without value if the right people were not appointed.

“The sectors affected should be asked to nominate and suggest suitable reviewers who have national recognition in these specialised fields.” — WR.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  school  |  textbook saga

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