Panyaza Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for Education.
Johannesburg - Parents and guardians send their children to school or drop them off at a nursery school with the expected assurance that they are in safe, protective environments.

It is a pity that there is no greater threat to our children than paedophiles who are supposed to be our children's keepers. Not long ago we dealt with allegations of abuse of schoolchildren in Soweto, where a school guard allegedly sexually assaulted 87 pupils and also with reports of learner molestations in Mamelodi and Benoni.

Now a Reiger Park principal has caused widespread outrage, after a video of him having sex with some pupils was put online. It is a pity that somewhere a learner is being sexually molested or touched inappropriately every day by a trusted teacher in our school system.

Anecdotally at least, it may look like learner sexual abuse is a scourge that seems to be growing. While this is not only a problem in education, we must be particularly concerned about school employees because of the trust we place in them to care for our children.

The sad truth is that other hard-working teachers pay for these disgusting deeds of some predators. They pay every time a teacher molests a learner. They pay when the slightest gesture towards a child - a hug, a pat on the back, a kiss on the forehead - is viewed not as healthy affection but as something more unseemly.

The horror of the abuse allegations is compounded by the indication that as parents, guardians and teachers, we miss or overlook the signs that something might be amiss.

Sexual abuse knows no boundaries. Predators may be found among acquaintances, teachers, family friends, family members and, of course, strangers.

Sexual predators look just like everybody else: a parent, priest, pastor and even a teacher. Indeed, sexual predators, molesters and harassers are rarely who you think they are. They're not always that seething and scary guy.

The villain can be that much-admired mentor and in this case, a teacher.

Unfortunately, some of us believe that certain people are not capable of being molesters. As parents we might reason thus, because we want to maintain faith in people, especially those to whom we entrust the care of our children.

Of course, it is important to acknowledge that most of our teachers, principals and school employees are dedicated professionals and strong role models. Don’t let the behaviour of sex predatory teachers overpower that fact. For every predatory teacher there are so many more teachers and others who have only the children's best interests at heart. However, we must take action against the minority who are sexual predators to our kids.

As parents, guardians, grandparents and representatives of our Rainbow Nation, inaction is not an option. After all, paedophilia, incest and other forms of sexual abuse feed off the shame of victims and the silence of people who know or suspect what’s going on.

Don’t get discouraged, though. Abuse can be prevented. 

According to an American organisation, StopItNow.org, the best strategy for keeping children safe is through three simple steps: teach, trust and take action.

* Teach your spouse, children, friends and co-workers to recognise the warning signs of child sexual abuse or an adult’s unhealthy interest in children. Teach your children about inappropriate touching and to be wary of tricky adults who play games and keep secrets. Tell them when and how to say no to adults who act or speak inappropriately.

* Trust your gut and teach your children to trust theirs. Promise your child that you will always take their safety concerns, feelings and fears seriously - in short, that you trust them.

* A child who perceives an uncomfortable or unsafe circumstance needs to take action. Tell a trusted adult, send a text message, make a call to you or another designated person, and run.

From these three steps by StopItnow.Org, we need to recognise that sexual abuse could happen to any girl and even boy child. Psychologists say more than 90% of the time, a predator could be someone you know and suggest that we need to teach our children the No - Go - Tell philosophy. No means saying no to sexual advances. Go means to get away as quickly as possible. Tell means to tell someone immediately about what’s happening.

* Panyaza Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for Education.

** The views expressed here are not necesssarily those of Independent Media.

The Star