'The results are incredibly detrimental': A look into the widespread issue of grooming and sexual abuse by teachers

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Parents should report the issue as soon as possible...
Parents should report the issue as soon as possible...

The storyline of the teacher who grooms their students into sexual submission has been a common on-screen scandal for years and though the portrayal of this narrative certainly makes for jaw-dropping television, it can be quite easy to forget how frequently these situations take place in reality. 

In recent years (and even recent weeks), multiple stories have broken about teachers who groom and/or sexually assault their students, but these reports are but the tip of the iceberg of a larger, widespread problem. 

In 2019 the South African Council of Educators (SACE) recorded a whopping 122 cases of sexual abuse of pupils by teachers, and this number excludes the 2 out of 3 cases of sexual assault that go unreported. 

Parent24 spoke to an expert in the field of child protection and child abuse to find out how to spot the early signs of teacher-pupil sexual misconduct and stop a predator in their tracks. 

"Anybody is potentially vulnerable to sexual abuse – and anybody can potentially be an abuser as well," said Luke Lamprecht, who is the Head of Advocacy for women and men against child abuse. 

Also see: 'It is not only disgusting, but it is also unlawful': Education activist speaks out against teacher-pupil relationships

The grooming stages

Career offenders – predators who choose jobs that give them access to children – tend to target younger people through the process of grooming.

Lamprecht, who has 29 years of experience in the field of child protection, detailed how career offenders start by grooming their employers and the parents of the school pupils with their charm and a guise of dedication in order to allow them more freedom.

The process of grooming the child in question, however, usually begins by isolating that particular child out of a group of children by providing private lessons or private coaching, for example. 

"Everybody should be aware of the modus operandi of the abuser," Lamprecht told Parent24, explaining that a predator would begin to test boundaries and eventually convince children to pledge to secrecy. 

"They make it their life's work," Lamprecht elaborated. "The cautionary tale for parents is: Nobody should pay more attention to your child than you."

Signs and symptoms

A nationally representative study on child maltreatment showed that 40% of children in South Africa have experienced some kind of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse or neglect at some point in their lives, and yet many of us remain completely oblivious. 

Lamprecht advised on behavioural patterns to look for in predators as well as tell-tale characteristics an abused child might experience.

"The results are incredibly detrimental," said Lamprecht.

When a pupil is groomed into submission and sexual abuse, there can often be "complicated emotions" due to feeling as though they were a willing participant in wrongdoing. 

The mental health consequences can present as short- and long-term effects, such as: 

  • Shame
  • Self-isolation
  • Guilt
  • Lack of trust
  • Increased secrecy
  • Hypersexuality
  • Eating Disorders
  • Anxiety 
  • DepressionPost-traumatic Stress

Also read: 'The school won't give us the report': Here's what to do

    What now?

    The educating process for sexual misconduct should start early. From as early as children are able to say the word no, they should be encouraged to exercise their boundaries.

    "When do we ever encourage children to say no to adults? We simply don't," explained Lamprecht. "We call them defiant, we call them disrespectful."

    Moreover, just as children need education about their ability to stand up for themselves in dangerous situations, adults also need to be educated on how to protect their children.

    Adults should regularly check the National Register for Sex Offenders, band together as communities to take a stand against sexual abuse and make their stance known.

    Parents and teachers especially need to be on guard for any suspicious activity, despite the desire to feel reassured of the educators with whom parents entrust their children.

    "We as adults remain the duty bearers for primary protection for our children," concluded Lamprecht. 

    Acts of sexual misconduct can be reported to a school teacher, the school's governing body, the SAPS, or any of the contact numbers below: 

    Safe Schools Call Centre: 0800 45 46 47

    NSPCC: 0800 136 663

    Crime Stop: 08600 10111


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