Cape Town - The Western Cape Department of Education (WCED) said it received 32 cases of sexual harassment from January 1 to September 30 that involved teachers at public schools.
The revelation came after a call by a non-profit organisation, the Governing Body Foundation (GBF), for more to be done concerning incidents of sexual grooming at schools.
GBF spokesperson Anthea Cereseto said the foundation had recognised the need to shed light on sexual grooming because it posed a significant threat to young people in educational settings.
“We want to raise awareness of and encourage proactive measures to protect children and teenagers.
“There is a need for a multifaceted approach to tackle sexual grooming effectively. This approach involves not only parents, educators, and institutions, but also the entire community,” she said.
Sexual grooming involves adults in positions of authority exploiting their relationships with minors for sexual purposes. The department refers to this as “sexual harassment” or assault.
According to the WCED, 18 of the 32 cases were being dealt with and pursued further, while 14 cases were found to have no grounds/evidence.
WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said: “Twelve cases of sexual assault were reported, seven of which are pending. One has been recommended for dismissal, and four were closed due to having no grounds/ evidence to pursue further.”
Hammond said in all cases of sexual harassment or abuse it received, the department initiated its, ‘Abuse No More’ protocol, which ensured relevant role players, including Saps and the Department of Social Development, in cases of minors, were notified of the incident.
The WCED’s protocol is an initiative developed to equip institutions, employees and pupils with information on how to deal with incidents of sexual abuse.
The programme, based on legislative framework, contains reporting procedures for pupils, teachers, employees, parents, caregivers, or any other person. It prescribes the correct approach for teachers and employees of the WCED to identify, intervene, report and provide support in cases of child abuse, deliberate neglect, and children who are victims of sexual offences.
The protocol applies to all public schools in the Western Cape Education Department.
Regarding teachers hired to teach at public schools, Hammond said they were subjected to the SACE Code of Professional Ethics, and the disciplinary and reporting procedures that follow as a result of any contraventions.
“The Employment of Educators Act allows the Department to take action against any staff member who engages in abusive behaviour. The Department also seriously vets all its new employees. This includes teachers and support staff,” she said.
“Any person seeking employment within the WCED is required to be fingerprinted. This allows us to conduct a background check using the services of an external service provider. The agency is well-established and has direct access to police and court records.
“We also check the government’s employee records system, Persal, to establish whether a potential employee who worked previously for the government was ever convicted of an offence, including sexual offences. Then we check whether teachers are registered with the South African Council of Educators (SACE),” Hammond said.
In addition to its protocol, its checks and requirements, the Department said that over the years it had designed its curriculums to cover issues relating to Gender-Based-Violence (GBV).
“For example, in the curriculum from Grade 4 to 12, we cover GBV so that we can educate learners from an early age that abuse is unacceptable. We have also partnered with Google to develop the Online Safety Curriculum, which is deemed crucial as learners are spending much of their time on the internet and social media. In some cases, social media is the gateway to GBV,” Hammond said.
She said all teachers and pupils would report any form of abuse to the Safe Schools Hotline on 0800 45 46 47 (toll-free) for immediate assistance.
“We are the only province to have such a hotline,” she said.