At least 87 girls at a Soweto school have been sexually abused, allegedly by a scholar patrolman. And although large-scale, this is not an isolated incident. There has been a recent spate of alleged sexual assault and rape of pupils of all ages around the country.
The UDM’s Women’s Organisation (Udemwo) chairperson Thandi Nontenja said in a statement: “There seems to be an increase of criminal activities in our schools that puts our pupils’ safety and lives at risk. This is a threat to education and jeopardises our children’s basic rights as entrenched in the Constitution.”
So, what can parents and caregivers do to prevent scholars from becoming victims of sexual assault?
We have two pieces of advice, which we’ll expand upon in this article:
- Be involved in your child’s life
- Encourage children to speak up
By doing these two things, you can help minimise the risk of your child becoming a victim of sexual abuse at school, and be in a better position to know and notice if they are experiencing unwanted attention.
Be involved in your child’s life
If you have active involvement in your child’s life, it’s easier to spot the warning signs of sexual abuse. Your child will also feel comfortable speaking to you if something isn’t right.
Here’s how to get involved:
- Show interest in your child’s day-to-day life – ask them specific questions about their day – what they did and who they did it with.
- Get to know who is in your child’s life – who are they spending time with (children and adults)? Who do they encounter on a regular basis?
- Choose caregivers carefully – from babysitters to afterschool activities, be diligent about the kind of people in whose care you leave your child.
- Talk about the news and media – when incidents of sexual violence are covered in the news, ask your child about the coverage to start a conversation. Some examples: “Have you ever heard of this kind of thing happening before?” or, “What would you do if you found yourself in this situation?”
With a close, open relationship with your child, you will be able to spot the warning signs of sexual abuse. You’ll notice any changes with your child, and will be able to speak to them about what is going on in their life to cause these changes.
Encourage children to speak up
Keep your child safe in the knowledge that their voice will always be heard and taken seriously. This will give them the courage to speak up when they know or sense that something isn’t right.
As soon as your children can use words to talk about their feelings or emotions, you can start having conversations with them on topics such as:
- Having clear boundaries – no one has the right to touch them if it makes them feel uncomfortable (and that the same applies to other people).
- Let your child know that their body is their own.
- How to talk about their bodies – teach your child the names of their body parts so that they have the vocabulary to tell you when something is wrong.
- Spend time with your child – set time to give them your undivided attention and let them know they can come to you with any questions or concerns.
- Remind your child they will not get into trouble for talking to you, no matter what they have to say.
Spending time to forge a close, honest and open relationship with your child is the best way to ensure that you know what is going on their life, they feel comfortable telling you what is happening to them, and you’re able to spot any changes in behaviour.
If an incident ever does occur, make sure that you’re aware of the next course of action and report it to the relevant authorities.