Sexual violence high at schools

Nondumiso Gqomfa, from the Human Sciences Research Council, addresses the pupils.

The Human Sciences Research Council and its partners, Grassroot Soccer and Soul City Institute, say they are appalled by the high rate of sexual violence at schools, mainly in the Cape Metro and largely in Khayelitsha.

Through their research programme, Kwanele Project, the results of their Sexual Violence in Schools in South Africa (SeViSSA) initiative revealed that young children, from the age of 10, were the most vulnerable.

The shocking figures were released during a community dialogue on sexual violence in schools and the nature of the problem, at Chris Hani High School in Khayelitsha, on Friday August 3.

The results showed that high levels of sexual violence included intimate parter violence in heterosexual dating relationships.

The research, conducted at 10 primary schools and 10 high schools, revealed that violence was common and occurred mostly in classrooms, on sport fields and in bathrooms. Intimate partner violence is widespread, the most common forms being verbal threats, slapping, pushing/hair-pulling, hitting (with a fist or object), kicking, dragging, beating, choking, burning, threats with weapon.

Sexual violence also featured as a form of intimate partner violence and while 41% of primary school pupils experienced sexual violence in an intimate partnership in the 12 months preceding the study, the study also found that younger pupils are less likely to report intimate partner violence.

Another shocking revelation is the high rate of pupil and teacher perpetrated sexual violence in schools.

According to the study most sexual violence was committed by teachers, with two out of 10 primary school pupils and one in 10 high school pupils in the metro abused by their teachers.

The culture of silence around sexual violence was also a worrying trend according to the organisations. These derailed children’s education.

Dr Ingrid Lynch, a researcher with the HSRC, attributed the silence to a fear of negative consequences both for the victim and the perpetrator as well as the perception that teachers fail to act on reports.

“Our findings suggest that pupils in romantic relationships experience a high level of violence at the hands of partners, with somewhat higher level among primary school pupils. Girls experience such violence at much higher rates than boys,” she said.

Dr Lynch said it was shocking to hear children speak to them about their experiences as there was a perception that young people do not normally talk about their sexual experiences. But she said it was something to take forward to combat the challenges faced by young people.

Tony Gubesa, from Grassroot Soccer, said there was a lack of parental involvement in their children’s lives.

He said as they were conducting the research it was also difficult to speak to parents.

“Some of the challenges can be easily dealt with if only the parents can get involved. We found that they care less and they always have excuses. There were instances where we wanted to have a word with them, few came forward but most always had commitments,” he said.

Mr Gubesa also criticised the teachers for not communicating properly with their pupils. He said teachers were to blame for some of the issues. He said those who were involved with children sometimes took advantage of the situation. He said the study continued to seek more clarity and solutions.

Mr Gubesa said the second part of the study would be released next year. Lulama Matiwane, liaison officer for HIV/Aids, TB and life skills at the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) Metro East District, said violence and abuse at home, at school and elsewhere were stumbling blocks to proper functioning of schools.

He called on parents to look deeply at the challenges faced by children at school, home and in the community and to take an interest in other matters at school, not only their children’s results.

“Pupils have challenges from home and everywhere. We know they are not on the same level, some have clothes, some are poor. That is why schools have uniforms,” said Mr Matiwane.

He urged abused children to speak out. He said most abuse was committed by close relatives, including fathers, uncles and people they know.

“They need to share the information among themselves so that we can know of all these challenges. There is peer pressure on the other side,” he said.

Mr Matiwane appealed to parents to be involved in their children’s education and welfare.

The SeViSSA initiative aims to create safe school environments by dealing with violence against girls and is delivered through peer educators in Khayelitsha.

Some of the key lessons which emerged from the study include: primary school pupils need more attention, educators must understand and engage with youth cultures and local understandings, harmful gender norms should be interrogated, more research work must be conducted with this group and a culture of silence normalises widespread violence.

The full HSRC SeViSSA report can be read at