Former Parktown Boys' assistant water polo Collan Rex. File photo: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)
Collan Rex may have been sentenced to 23 years in prison, but the spectre of his abuse still haunts his victims as they struggle with suicidal thoughts, substance problems and dysfunctional relationships with their families and friends.

This week, as the 23-year-old’s sentencing proceedings continued at High Court sitting in Palm Ridge, the court heard in excruciating detail the aftermath of Rex’s physical and sexual assaults.

Dozens of statements were read by prosecutor Arveena Persad, showing how the majority of the 17 victims had spent a hellish two years trying to recover from the trauma of the abuse that had become the norm at Parktown Boys High School.

For the brief two years Rex coached water polo at the school, he was able to molest more than a dozen pupils over and over again.

He had already admitted to 144 counts of sexual assault at the beginning of the trial, with more than 57 incidents pertaining to one pupil, the same pupil who ultimately exposed Rex’s hideous misconduct.

A top sportsman at the school, the young man had approached the school’s boarding house master in 2016, asking for help finding a missing bag of water polo caps.

As CCTV footage was reviewed, it was discovered that Rex had been filmed molesting one of the boarders.

An investigation was launched, and a torrent of allegations surfaced following Rex’s arrest.

Speaking to the Saturday Star this week, the pupil admits there never was a missing bag.

Ben* attended the majority of the sentencing proceedings alongside his parents, listening intently as his own impact report was read out earlier this week. It was one of the most difficult to hear, particularly for his parents in the court gallery, who became visibly emotional.

Social worker Busisiwe Mahlangu’s report, written from an interview conducted when Ben was admitted to a mental health facility, said prior to his experience at Parktown Boys the young man said he had an “exceptionally close” bond with his family.

He was glad to have been able to attend the school, but after enrolling in 2014, he was shocked at the treatment of young pupils during a camp.

“Learners (were) beaten and humiliated into keeping quiet and respecting the older boys. He added that this became a part of him he learnt to accept the bullying as being a normal part of the Parktown Boys way,” the impact report reads.

But it was during his time in the water polo team that the sexual abuse began, with the document spending two pages outlining the dozens of incidents where Rex would touch his genitals, “dry hump” him, try to penetrate his anus with his fingers, choke him or try to wrestle with him.

Ben had started to become more withdrawn, and sometimes aggressive with his family as the abuse continued. But even after Rex’s arrest, the boy’s mental state continued to deteriorate and his academic performance plunged.

“The victim stated that he is unable to go back to school due to the treatment he is receiving from other learners and some of the teachers he is treated with shame and disgust.”

He told the social worker that some of the learners who were abused by Rex had refused to come forward, and that his own negative feelings surrounding the abuse became more intense as the criminal trial approached.

“He started smoking dagga due to peer pressure and wanting to forget about the incidents as it was difficult for him to deal with the bullying and victimisation,”the report read.

He began misusing alcohol and experimented with stronger drugs, such as CAT and MDMA.

Under the influence, he physically assaulted his father and brothers after flying into a rage.

“He became suicidal and found that drugs assisted him in dealing with the stress and anger emanating from having failed to defend himself from the accused.”

Just a few months ago, Ben sat with his legs hanging off a bridge over the N1, threatening suicide, while his crying brother desperately tried to contact his father to persuade him from jumping.

“But the thought of his parents’ pain led him not to jump,” wrote Mahlangu.

Having been diagnosed with depression, Ben’s psychologist told the social worker that the abuse would have a lifelong negative emotional impact on him.

Ben’s mother was also briefly admitted to a psychiatric facility in April this year “due to constant fear and anxiety of having to see the victim and his brothers having to endure (such) emotional pain”. Both she and her husband have been placed on anti-depressants.

“The victim’s family members are left to pick up the pieces of the ordeal as they have to be careful on how they respond to the victim and containing him in order to ensure that he is not a risk to himself,” Mahlangu wrote.

Ben’s father also submitted a statement to the prosecution explaining how his son had transformed following the abuse. Describing him as “super confrontational”, the father expressed his own frustration at “not knowing what to do”.

Judgment to help recovery

Ben’s experiences reflect so many of his fellow complainants’, with many of the reports revealing similar tales of suicidal thoughts, turning to drugs and alcohol, a decline in school marks and turmoil at school and at home.

Speaking to the Saturday Star after the sentencing of water polo coach at Parktown Boys’ High, Collan Rex, on Thursday, Ben’s relief was palpable.

“Everything went well (with the sentencing), but now I’m focused on recovering and moving on with my life,” he said. The judgment, he said, would be a part of his recovery. “Being able to see where I’ve been, what I’ve gone through, it can only make me stronger,” he said.

Each of the complainants have been widely lauded for having the courage to speak out, though it was Rees Mann, an anti-abuse activist and fellow survivor of abuse, who put it best: “They’re going to go through a lifelong healing (process), but they should be looking at themselves as true heroes The healing process is only starting now. They were victims until today, now they are survivors.”

*not his real name

Saturday Star