Pretoria - In finding the Western Cape Department of Education liable for the damages a learner suffered 10 years ago when she was sexually assaulted by a teacher, the court said it had a legal duty to ensure the safety of its pupils.
The pupil, who cannot be named, was either raped or sexually molested in the staff toilet by the teacher, who was also the acting principal of the school at the time, during break.
It took the traumatised girl, 12 at the time, about 10 days before she could confide in the school’s secretary what had happened to her. Although the police were called and the teacher had spent about two weeks in custody, the system dismally failed the child.
The prosecuting authority declined to prosecute “due to a lack of evidence” and a disciplinary hearing against the teacher which followed also cleared his name. This, in spite of the fact that the teacher never testified during the hearing in his defence.
To make matters worse, the teacher had a prior conviction of sexual abuse regarding a minor before he was appointed at this school.
The child and her mother turned to the Western Cape High Court to claim damages against both the department and the teacher.
He in turn instituted a counter claim against the victim for “defamation”, as he said she was badmouthing him by blaming him for something he did not do.
The court not only overturned the counter-claim, but the judge had harsh words for the teacher, who had clearly lied during his evidence before the court.
Judge MR Sher also rejected the department’s defence that it was not aware of the fact that the teacher had a prior sexual conviction when he applied for various positions at public schools over a number of years.
It was argued on behalf of the department that the SA Council of Educators was supposed to vet applicants for teacher positions.
On his application for the job, the teacher at the time denied that he had any prior criminal convictions. Asked by the judge why he denied this, the teacher said he had “made a mistake”.
He admitted that he had previously had sex with a minor but said this was outside work, and with her consent.
He added that “there were also other men involved” in that incident.
Judge Sher said this was “disturbing”.
In the latest case, the victim and her mother said in court papers the department had a duty to vet teachers, and if this had been done, the child would have not fallen victim to the teacher.
The plaintiff testified that shortly after break in September 2011, the teacher asked her to help him move boxes in his office. However, when she arrived there, he instructed her to go to the staff toilet. She did, and he followed her. He undressed her and sexually assaulted her.
Damages will be decided later.