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Durban - A North Coast school transport driver, convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage pupil while taking her home, pleaded for leniency, through his attorney, on the basis that he “could have done worse”.

The attorney repeatedly argued during mitigation of sentence that the accused, Roy Roopram, 54, had the opportunity to harm the victim but did not.

On this basis, he implored the court to be merciful towards the accused.

Sitting in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court, Magistrate Jenny Pillay found Roopram guilty of sexual assault and sentenced him to five years in jail. However, she suspended the sentence. Should he commit the same or similar offence during this period, he would go to prison.

Furthermore, his name has been added to the National Register for Sex Offenders. According to the magistrate, this was necessary to prevent him from working with children in the future.

The incident, which involved a 14-year-old girl, happened in October last year.

Roopram, who is married and has an adult child, used his vehicle to transport children to and from a secondary school.

The 14-year-old and her cousin were among his passengers.

Roopram convinced the girl that he could only transport her during his second drop-off. As a result, she waited while he took her cousin and a few others home.

When he returned, the girl and two male pupils got into the vehicle. He asked the boys to sit in the back of the vehicle and the victim in front with him. After he dropped off the boys, he locked the doors, wound up the windows, and drove at a slow pace towards her home.

En route, he rubbed her inner thighs. When she tried to stop him, he held her hands and told her he liked her.

He said he wanted to take her to Suncoast to see a movie. Scared that he might harm her, she remained quiet.

When they got to her home, he asked her to blow him a kiss. She ran home and reported the matter to her aunt, who opened a case with the police.

Roopram’s version was that the girl’s grandmother owed him R200 in transport fees and the court case was a way of evading payment.

However, during cross-examination by State prosecutor Ishara Sewnarayan, he admitted the allegations.

During mitigation of sentence it emerged that Roopram had since left the school transport business and was unemployed. He had no previous convictions.

Through his attorney he said he was sorry for what had happened and asked the court to be lenient towards him.

His attorney said: “At the time when he was alone with the child, he could have done something worse, like rape, of which the victim admitted is what she feared. But he did not.”

In aggravation of sentence, Sewnarayan read out the girl’s victim impact statement:

“That day I drove with Roy, I was so scared. I did not think I would see my mum or grandmum again. There were so many things going through my mind and I kept quiet, praying to God that I get home safely.”

She said she told her family because she knew they would support her.

After the incident she had to seek medical help.

“I had a nervous breakdown. I felt so embarrassed that I wanted to hide my face and just cry. What did I do wrong to him for him to do this to me? I still look around school or while driving with my granny, knowing he’s around.”

The pupil said she feared the man because she “told on him”.

“I feel so helpless that I just cry. It feels like he stole something from me and I don’t know how it’s going to get better. All I can do is just pray to God.”

Sewnarayan said sexual offences were prevalent in South Africa and emphasised the 40-year age gap between the accused and the victim. She said the girl was young enough to be his granddaughter.

“I hope the accused learnt his lesson, that he should keep his hands to himself. Women are not sexual objects. Yes, we know it could have been more serious and I hope the accused learns to respect women.”

Sewnarayan did not oppose a wholly suspended sentence.

During sentencing, Magistrate Pillay said Roopram had a responsibility as a school driver.

“You were put in a position of trust but you had no moral conscience. Even wide-scale media attention on child abuse did not deter you. Great pressure has been put on the courts to deal with male persons violating women and children.”

Pillay found the potential of the incident turning into something worse remained within the victim’s psyche and she hoped, with time, the fear would subside.

“She could have incurred further harm if she did not have the support of her family. She also kept calm, which allowed her to get out.”

The accused sobbed as the sentence was read out. The girl’s grandmother told the POST she would have preferred that the accused served time in jail, and prayed he mended his ways.

“Her mum is sick with lupus. I am the only one taking care of this child and she is my life. No one knows the trauma this child is going through. She doesn’t leave the house, not even to go to the movies. She sticks to me. She is living in fear.”

She claimed the accused drove past the school and got other pupils to call her grandchild so he could speak to her.

“He drives past my house and my fear is that he is going to abduct her. We are in the process of getting a restraining order. But if I catch him anywhere near my grandkids, he will have hell to pay.”

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