V. SEXUAL VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS
Sometimes it feels scary.
JI, age sixteen, about the risk of sexual violence and harassment at her school.
Far from being a problem only for schools with few resources, sexual violence permeates the whole of the South African education system. Human Rights Watch interviewed girls from a variety of different social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. In documenting their cases, Human Rights Watch learned that sexual assault occurs in prestigious predominantly white schools, in impoverished predominantly black township schools, in schools for the learning disabled, and even in primary schools. Privilege often does not protect a girl against sexual violence, while poverty may render her more vulnerable to assault.
South African girls face the threat of multiple forms of violence at school. This includes rape, sexual abuse, and sexualized touching or emotional abuse in the form of threats of violence. Girls also encounter constant highly sexualized verbal degradation in the school environment. These forms of gender violence are largely committed by other students, and in some instances by teachers or other school employees. Even strangers to the school environment target young women in schools, or on their way to and from school.
Rape and Sexual Coercion By Teachers and School Employees
There must be an end to the practice of male teachers demanding sex with schoolgirls or female teachers. It shows selfish disrespect for the rights and dignity of women and young girls. Having sex with learners betrays the trust of the community. It is also against the law. It is a disciplinary offence. Tragically, nowadays, it is spreading HIV/AIDS and bringing misery and grief to these precious young people and their families.
Kader Asmal, South Africa Education Minister86
Based on our interviews with educators, social workers, children, and parents, the problem of teachers engaging in serious sexual misconduct with underage female students is widespread.87 As the testimony offered below demonstrates, teachers have raped, sexually assaulted, and otherwise sexually abused girls. Sometimes reinforcing sexual demands with threats of physical violence or corporal punishment, teachers have sexually propositioned girls and verbally degraded them using highly sexualized language. At times, sexual relations between teachers and students did not involve an overt use of force or threats or force; rather, teachers would abuse their authority by offering better grades or money to pressure girls for sexual favors or "dating relationships."
The Case of MC
Human Rights Watch interviewed MC, a fifteen-year-old high school student in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. MC was living on the campus of her high school when one of her teachers asked her to come to his flat, also on the school campus, after class hours. He said he needed to speak with her. MC told Human Rights Watch what happened next:
I was walking with [a] friend and [the teacher] asked me to come to his room...I thought, he's a teacher, it'll be fine. He gave me a key so that I could get to the boy's hostel [where he lived]. I went to his dorm and walked to the lounge. He gave me a hooch [an alcoholic drink]. I was lame. I knew what was happening to me, but I couldn't move. He picked me up and took me to his room and started taking my clothes off. He took his clothes off. He's twice my size and like five times my weight, and has so many muscles. Then he penetrated me. When I came to, I got up and went to my dorm. My friend said I looked high. I went to bed. Then I just left it. I was scared to tell anyone because I was afraid no one would believe me. I had been raped before and no one believed me then. 88
MC thought she would just forget about the rape, but her aggressor would not let her. Shortly after the alleged rape, the teacher persisted in pursuing MC for sex. She told Human Rights Watch: "The next day he asked me to come back. I gave him back his key and said I didn't want to have anything to do with him."89 The teacher still did not leave her alone, as MC had hoped. The teacher tried different approaches to lure MC back to his room, once under the pretense of private language tutoring and another time with promises of better grades. MC told us: "About a week later he asked me if I would come do Afrikaans with him, and that he would give me good marks."90
In subsequent weeks, another classmate confided in MC that the same teacher was making sexual advances towards her and told MC of another student who claimed to be having an affair with the same teacher. MC explained, "When I heard that, it really irritated me, because we had trusted him, and he was doing the same thing to my friends. We had problems at home and things that we couldn't really talk to our parents about, and he would talk to us. We confided in him. When I heard he was doing the same things to my friends, I came out with it."91 MC told a trusted female teacher and later her mother.
When MC's parents went to the school to complain, they were met with a hostile reception and advised by the school principal not to report the incident to police. MC described the meeting as follows.
Me, my mum and my dad went to see the principal and told him what happened. He said he couldn't believe it, and that if it did happen, we must keep it within the school and not tell anyone: the CPU [Child Protection Unit], the board of education. It should be between himself, [the deputy head of school], and us only. My mother said no.92
MC's family did not heed the school's advice and brought the case to the attention of the police. Even after the case had been filed, the school did not immediately take any action, such as initiating a disciplinary proceeding. After MC's allegations became public, at least six other girls from MC's school, aged between fourteen and sixteen, came forward and complained that the same teacher had either raped them or made sexual propositions to them.93
Fifteen-year-old PC, another student who said she was sexually abused by the same teacher, told Human Rights Watch of her experience as follows.
It started he would keep me after class and we would talk about whatever was bothering me. We agreed that we needed more time to talk than just for moments after class. So he sent a note home to my parents saying I needed extra help with Afrikaans. My parents and I [later] gave this note to the police [as evidence]. 94
According to PC, when she went to his apartment, instead of talking about her problems the teacher propositioned her, asking her to start a "dating relationship," and sexually fondled her. Initially, she was confused but flattered by the teacher's attentions. This turned to betrayal and anger when she learned she was one of several girls targeted by the teacher: "When I heard about the other girls, I asked him. I said, `What should I do if I'm called [by police]?' He said I mustn't say anything because the other girls were lying. I had all these combined emotions. He said he cared about me. He didn't."95
Charlene Smith, a journalist at the Johannesburg-based Mail and Guardian who first brought this case to the attention of Human Rights Watch, learned that the same teacher had faced similar allegations at other schools where he had previously taught.96 Children at a primary school in Doornfontein, where he taught from 1991 to 1995, had complained about the teacher to school officials.97 Complaints about the teacher had also previously been made to an organization assisting victims of child abuse, but police said that they could not act until a formal complaint was lodged against the teacher and the school had not done so.
MC's teacher is presently on voluntary leave from the high school while police investigate the rape allegations. He has been charged with several counts of statutory rape (sexual intercourse with a girl under age sixteen), but the case was still pending at the time of this writing.
MC left school shortly after her allegations became public because she could no longer endure the teasing from her classmates, who would call her names including "whore," "slut," and "liar."98 According to MC, some of the other students would taunt her, "They say `you shagged the teacher,' but I didn't, he raped me."99
MC's mother explained, "It is hard for her to go to school and face that [the constant ridicule]; she doesn't want to go, she can't handle being rejected by the others. She's been in emotional upheaval, she hates school and she's fighting everyone. It has affected our entire family."100
MC's case was unusual primarily because she had the courage to come forward and enjoyed the support of her parents who pressed the case. However, MC's case is not atypical in that she did not find support from school officials. That MC alleged she was raped at school by a school employee, and that school officials chose to conceal the allegations within the school community, is sadly representative of what many South African girls experience. Human Rights Watch received testimony illustrating a persistent pattern of teachers implicated in serious abuses being able to continue to work within the school system.
The Case of SF
A Durban school serving learning-disabled children took no action after a teacher allegedly raped a sixteen-year-old student, SF, in 1998. On the day of the assault, SF had been asked to go the principal's office and help staple papers. When she arrived, the principal was not in the office and SF found herself alone with a male instructor who had an office adjoining the principal's office. According to SF, the teacher raped her and forced her to perform oral sex. He then threatened her with violence if she told anyone.
Later the same day, a teacher's aide approached SF during a recess period because she "looked troubled." SF disclosed the rape to the aide. Taking SF with her, the teacher's aide reported the rape to the school principal. According to the aide the school principal reportedly said "[SF] looks fine now" and that she did not believe SF's allegations. SF was returned to her classes to complete the school day and was sent home on the bus with her classmates.
Coincidentally, SF's mother had called the school principal that same day to discuss school bus issues. SF's mother believes that she called the principal after SF had reported the rape, but the principal did not mention the rape allegations or indicate that anything out of the ordinary had occurred with SF at school during the conversation.
SF's mother told Human Rights Watch:
When [SF] arrived home I knew something was wrong because she did not greet me. She didn't ring to get into the gate; she was just standing there with her head down. I asked her "what's wrong" and she didn't respond. I told [SF] to go get her bath and get ready for Arabic lessons. Later that evening, [the school principal] called to tell me that SF had made some "very serious allegations at school." They should have called me, I'd have come right to the school to get her. They wanted to hush it up because he's [the teacher is] a big shot who brings in funds for the school.101
The school did not initiate any disciplinary proceeding against the teacher and he remained on the job.102 Human Rights Watch has learned that a criminal case against this teacher recently resulted in his conviction. However, he has appealed the ruling and is not currently in custody. Moreover, Childline reports that he has continued to work in educational supervisory capacities close to children, by serving on a national committee on sport for disabled athletes. The teacher continued in this capacity, despite repeated objections and warnings from Childline that he poses a danger to children.
The prosecutor bringing the case against SF's teacher shared the disappointment of SF's mother with the school's response. The prosecutor explained to Human Rights Watch:
What is most disappointing for me is you don't get support for this girl. These are people who work with disabled children; you'd think they'd be more supportive and want to get people who are a possible danger to the kids away from the kids. I was quite shocked by this. The majority of the teachers came through wanting to testify for the defense, saying that SF lies, that she's given to fantasy because she talks about wanting to marry someone on the television show "The Bold and the Beautiful." We had SF assessed by two different, separate psychologists and [Childline]. SF is fine and she's telling the truth. She is from a very conservative Muslim family. She'd had no exposure to sex and there's not enough sex on any soap opera she'd watch to account for the level of explicit detail the child was able to provide.103
As a result of the incident, SF's mother made a decision to take her out of school entirely. She told Human Rights Watch, "I'm still afraid I can't keep [SF] safe."104
* * *
These two cases illustrate some of the abuses to which girls in South African schools are subject, including abuse of authority and violence by teachers, failure of school authorities to respond decisively to serious allegations, and, as a result, significant interruption of the girls' education. These issues surfaced repeatedly in Human Rights Watch interviews with girls and in the records of South African social services organizations assisting victims of child abuse.
Sexual Abuse, Advances, and Harassment by Teachers
A 1998 Medical Research Council survey found that among those rape victims who specified their relationship to the perpetrator, 37.7 percent said their schoolteacher or principal had raped them.105 South African girls interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported routine sexual harassment in schools, as well as psychological coercion by teachers to engage in "dating relationships."
In some cases, girls acquiesce to sexual demands from teachers because of fears that they will be physically punished if they refuse. In other cases, teachers abuse their position of authority by promising better grades or money in exchange for sex. In the worst cases, teachers operate within a climate of seeming entitlement to sexual favors from students. In a wide spectrum of cases, the school response is weak, nonexistent, or actually facilitates continued abuse.
Human Rights Watch repeatedly encountered reports of psychological coercion. A fifteen-year-old student described how her teacher played to her emotions, sexually propositioned her, and then molested her.
He talked to me about having a dating relationship, but how it wouldn't work and how it would be wrong. Duh, I was like yeah. Then he started to give me a massage. I was kind of uncomfortable but I knew he cared about me, and he said he did a lot for his students and not all of them appreciated him. He said I was different. He said he was interested in seeing me, but it would never work because he's a teacher and I'm a student. I agreed. Then he asked me to take off my shirt but if part of my school uniform was still on I would look sexy. Then he touched me. I told him to stop. I told him it was time for my parents to come get me. My parents came ten minutes later. My whole family was in the car. My mother asked me, "How was your Afrikaans lesson?"106
IZ, a seventeen-year-old student from Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape, found that her teacher sexually harassed her when she sought his advice on a personal subject. IZ called Childline in August 1999 because her teacher had started to touch her and make her feel uncomfortable and she was not certain how to handle his harassment.107
Girls reported being subjected to degrading sexualized language from their teachers. A student told Human Rights Watch how a teacher who later raped her would make sexually explicit and degrading comments to girls in his classes about their bodies. MC described the teacher's classroom demeanor to Human Rights Watch as follows:
He would make all the girls sit in the front row, so he could look at them, and the boys in the back. He made me and my friend sit right in front of him. He would say things to us. Like one of my friends walked by and took off her blazer, and he said, "you go girl" because she has big boobs. There was a black girl in my hostel who had big boobs, and he told her she didn't need to get a boob job. You'd have to wear long pants because he would make bad comments, like "nice legs," or "can we go out." He signed my [school] diary "I love you. You go pupil."108
In another case reported to Childline, a primary school teacher from Chatsworth, near Durban, asked girls to draw a penis. The teacher reportedly was seen taking a girl into an empty classroom. She was then seen leaving the classroom wiping her mouth, leading the witness to believe that she had been sexually assaulted. The caller reportedly feared that the children's parents and the school governing body were not made aware of the allegations against the teacher, that no social worker was called into the school, and the "matter was simply being pushed aside."109
In our interviews with schoolgirls, social workers, and teachers, we encountered repeated allegations that teachers engaged in sexual relations with underage girls often without schools intervening to sanction teachers. Reports of rape and sexual abuse of girls by teachers also periodically appear in the local press. For instance, in November 2000, a middle school teacher in the North West province allegedly raped at least three underage female students, including one girl in the school library.110
Abusing Authority to Take Advantage of Vulnerability
Human Rights Watch documented one case in which a young girl was raped by her teacher and later paid for her silence. A social worker in KwaZulu-Natal treating the child described the case as follows:
I have a case of a twelve-year-old girl who was having sex with her teacher in exchange for money. He raped her in an empty classroom during school. She'd left her class to go to the toilets. He gave her money for her silence. And after that she would meet him and he'd pay her. There was medical evidence of penetration. The teacher was suspended but later allowed to come back to school. He paid the girl one rand when he raped her. Another girl has said he did the same thing to her. 111
In poorer areas abusive teachers will take advantage of a child's poverty to gain sexual access to them. A teacher familiar with the problems faced by children in poverty told Human Rights Watch:
Usually it starts you find a teacher being very supportive, giving the child special treatment. Nobody does anything about it. The teacher will give kids money to buy food, clothes. Some parents will encourage the children to become involved with the teacher for these benefits. The teachers are taking advantage of the poverty of the children. Teachers abuse their position of respect.112
A provincial school official from KwaZulu-Natal found that parents of students involved in affairs with teachers often kept silent because the teacher gave them money.113 A social worker in KwaZulu-Natal told Human Rights Watch, "Some parents don't object to affairs with teachers. They reason that `at least he's working and has money.' `Perhaps he'll help us support the child; take off some of the burden.' I think money plays a big role."114 In some instances, girls reportedly initiated relationships with teachers for economic reasons. In other instances, girls who were sexually abused were paid for their silence.
Poverty and fear can also form a powerful combination making it difficult for girls to resist and complain when sexually propositioned, contributing to their vulnerability to assault. A teacher who was responsible for transporting a female student to school would make suggestive comments to her when she was alone with him in the car. The student shared her problem with a social worker, who told Human Rights Watch:
In January, a sixteen-year-old girl came to me and told me that she had a problem. A teacher in the school, who gave her lifts to and from school, was bothering her. She lived very far away from the school, she would have to rise at 5:00 a.m. if she took public transport, and her parents had made an arrangement with the teacher, who lived near her to drive her to school in his car. There were two other kids that he drove to school with her. She started receiving lifts this year. She told me that the teacher would always drop her off last, and that he would make remarks, like "I'm tired. I need a bath. I need to be rubbed." "My wife hasn't been home. I need to be rubbed." She told him that she didn't like that kind of talk and would he stop. I advised her to tell her parents but she doesn't want to. She's afraid of him and she's dependent on him for a ride. Her parents are unemployed and the public transport fare would be too much, her sister is the only one working in the family. She was afraid that her parents would approach him and take action against him, and that he would harm her. He's a big and intimidating man. You don't argue with him. He carries a cane around the school and uses it liberally with the kids.115
Another frequent theme was the promise of improved grades or other privileges in return for sex-or threats of failing grades for refusing to perform sexual favors. Girls stated that aggressive sexual advances from their teachers made the school environment oppressive. One seventeen-year-old student from the East Rand stated to a newspaper reporter: "Five teachers have proposed love to me. I told my parents, and I was eventually moved to classes where none of them teach, because I felt very uncomfortable. But there are many other relationships going on between teachers and pupils. It's like you have to pretend to fall in love with them to get A's."116 One expert told Human Rights Watch:
There are major problems with teachers sexually abusing students, we haven't got quantification for it but there are numerous instances of teachers blackmailing girls-"I'll fail you if you don't have sex with me." Or in the alternative, the girls have sex with teachers to improve their grades. In either event it's an abuse of teacher's powers with significant consequences for other girls in class.117
A social worker assisting children in townships outside Durban told Human Rights Watch that she had encountered the problem of teachers demanding sex from girls in exchange for passing marks: "Teachers propose love to girls, and if they don't say yes they say they will fail you."118 On occasion, students seek out sexual relationships with teachers to gain benefits.
Explaining the challenges of ending teacher sexual abuse, one school official told Human Rights Watch of the difficulties of prohibiting sexual relationships between students and teachers:
Sexual abuse of girls is a problem, but it's far from simple. Age notwithstanding, some students are in consensual relationships with teachers, we might have a seventeen-year-old student and a twenty-two-year-old teacher, we can't legislate against falling in love. Sometimes the girls initiate a sexual relationship with a teacher in exchange for favors such as good grades or money. They're not so much teachers, as they are clients or johns for some of these girls who are prostituting themselves. I realize it is a big problem-teens are adventurous, engaged in experimenting. Sometimes they go too far and don't know how to get themselves out of situations.119
Human Rights Watch received reports of some teachers having several underage "girlfriends" or attempting to date underage students. A teacher from the Cape Flats outside Cape Town complained to Human Rights Watch that nothing was done after she notified her school administration about a colleague who was having dating relationships at school with underage students. She learned of the abuse when a young female student disclosed the relationship while seeking her advice; the student sought counsel because she learned that the teacher had been "cheating" on her with another one of her classmates.120
A social worker assisting schools in townships outside Johannesburg told Human Rights Watch that she encountered an attitude of sexual entitlement among some teachers in her work:
In 1998, I was at a school near Vilakazi High School. I arrived there, and there were no students. They had left because two teachers had been fighting. One of the teachers wanted to take a standard six girl for himself, and another teacher had said that that was wrong, and they were fighting. I couldn't believe it. I then had to go to another school nearby and I told them what happened. I was saying this was so wrong. That teachers should not be behaving like this. One of the teachers there said to me, "No. The department is not paying us enough money. So this is a fringe benefit. But standard six is too young. Standard nine and ten is where we play."121
A township teacher indicated that attitudes were "changing," telling Human Rights Watch, "Teacher on student sexual abuse is a very big problem. In the past it was blatant. Teachers would have sexual relationships with students openly. They never cared. Things are changing now-at least they try to conceal relationships."122
In another incident, a deputy headmaster from a prominent boarding school in KwaZulu-Natal was suspended after being accused of having affairs with three of his students.123 The girls, the youngest in grade ten, told a meeting of the school's governing body that they had been the deputy headmaster's girlfriends.124
Girls who considered themselves to be equal partners in sexual relations with their teachers later found that it was difficult to extricate themselves from the relationship and their teacher's control without changing schools or leaving school altogether.
Rape and Sexual Violence By Students
After the school break, my mom asked me if I wanted to go back to school. I said no. I didn't want to go. All the people who I thought were my friends had turned against me. And they [the rapists] were still there. I felt disappointed. [Teachers] always told me they were glad to have students like me, that they wished they had more students like me. If they had made the boys leave, I wouldn't have felt so bad about it.
WH, age thirteen, gang-raped by classmates
One of the greatest threats to a South African girl's safety at school is likely to be seated next to her in class. South African girls are far more likely to be sexually assaulted by one, or more-usually more-of their male classmates than by a teacher. Sometimes the violence accompanies adolescent dating relationships. At times, girls whom boys perceive to be arrogant or assertive-such as prefects, student leaders, or girls who perform well at school-are targeted for assault or threatened with sexual violence.125
Girls have been attacked in school toilet facilities, in empty classrooms and hallways, in hostel rooms and dormitories, and in other "no go" areas on school grounds, which girls repeatedly described to us as virtually any place. Sexual assaults were often attempted during class breaks and recess activity times. Human Rights Watch found that boys who commit acts of sexual violence against girls rarely act alone. All of the girls we interviewed who were raped or sexually assaulted by their male classmates said that they had been attacked by two or more boys. We learned of only one case of rape at school committed by a student acting alone.
Girls reported that certain forms of sexual assault occurred in classrooms during class, in full view of their teachers. For instance, girls complained that their male classmates would try to kiss them, fondle their breasts, raise their skirts, and try to touch them under their skirts. Girls reported that such behavior was unwanted, unwelcome, and highly distracting to the learning environment. Girls also complained that aggressive sexual advances made by male students significantly interfered with their ability to study and perform academically at school.
The Case of LB
Nine-year-old LB was raped in the school toilets at her primary school in Guguletu, a township near Cape Town, by two students aged twelve and fourteen in March 2000. She was on her way to the girls' toilet when the two boys intercepted her and took turns raping her in the boys' toilet.126
After the rape, LB ran home from school and told her mother. The next day, LB and her mother went to the school and reported the rape to the principal. The principal led LB and her mother from classroom to classroom so that LB could identify her assailants. When confronted with her allegations, the boys admitted to raping LB. Having confirmed that LB had been assaulted, LB's mother took her to the hospital.
The principal convinced LB's family not to press criminal charges against the boys and instead to accept a monetary payment of "seduction damages" from their parents.127 The principal met with both sets of parents. The parties agreed that LB's family would be paid a total of R120 (U.S. $20) in two installments to cover transportation costs for taking the girl to and from the hospital. The principal told LB's parents that they should wait for the parents of the boys to bring the money to the school and the principal would deliver the payment on April 5, 2000. School authorities took no action to counsel or discipline the two boys even after they had admitted assaulting the girl.
When Human Rights Watch interviewed LB's parents on April 11, 2000, they still had not received the full damage payment and were questioning their decision to cooperate with the school principal. LB's father explained that initially:
We decided not to open a case, we felt we wanted the kids not to be prisoners, not too severely punished. We wanted them to be counseled, taught a lesson. Something must be done to remove the criminal element out of their mind. We were on good terms with their parents. We are not now on good terms. Those kids must feel some pain; they must be educated and taught a lesson. We felt we had to deal with this parent to parent. Now we feel we've moved in the wrong path to be sympathetic, instead it should have been the other way around. They should have been feeling for us. My worry is that the boys are still at a tender age. They're going to grow up, what kind of members of society are they going to make. Rape is but one crime. They are small culprits now but they will become big. How can we destroy this in them at a tender age?128
LB's mother told Human Rights Watch that she thought the school as well as the parents of the boys should pay damages to her family. She was critical of how the entire incident was handled by the principal, "I don't think the school has organized a meeting about the incident. I think the school committee should be reported to. They need to meet and from the meeting make a decision. They must be made aware of the fact that there is a criminal element at the school."129 LB's father agreed, "The school's response has not been positive. We are interested in taking further steps. The response from their [the boys'] parents has not been positive."130
Because her parents do not have money to send her to another school, LB is still attending the same school as the two boys. The school has taken no steps to counsel or discipline the boys, and has done nothing to further ensure LB's sense of security and well-being in school. A social worker treating LB expressed concern for the child's ability to improve as "she's going back into the same environment" each day. The social worker told Human Rights Watch that LB is "not herself, she's been behaving differently, wetting her bed. She's easily frightened, confused and forgetful."131 LB's mother told Human Rights Watch: "I can't understand how nobody saw anything or helped my child . . . I don't feel she is safe."132
Sexual Assault and Intimidation
They all think that girls are supposed to be their doormat. I think boys must be taught to look at girls as people.
DA, age fifteen
Many attacks appear to be motivated by the desire of male students to control their female classmates or to put down assertive girls. MB told Human Rights Watch about an incident in which two of her male classmates attempted to rape her:
A group of us had been talking about rape. I said I could take care of myself, I wouldn't be a rape victim. One boy said I couldn't. He said `give me a chance and I'll prove it.' I told him I wasn't afraid of them and they couldn't hurt me.
One of my friends who is a prefect was working at the media center and I was on my way to see her during break when [they] asked me where I was going and I said to the media center. They asked me if I was going by myself and I told them yes. I started walking there and they followed me. The media center is only about a two minute walk from the main school building but a teacher would not be able to see what goes on there, boys will go there to smoke because they cannot be seen. They started following me and came up behind me and pulled me behind the media center building. I felt like crying. They were trying to take my skirt off and they ripped my top. I had a button missing. There was a stick on the ground. I picked up the stick and started fighting them and they ran away.
He wanted me to know I should be afraid. I am afraid. I think of what if there was no stick on the ground. I think if there was no stick-they would have raped me. I think if the three of us were here in this room as we are now, if they were in this room they could rape me.133
Boys use sexual violence to scare girls into submission. One researcher described boy's use of violence as follows: "It's a mode of control over girls, over their bodies, dress, lives, movement social activities, there are a range of ways girls lives are limited by their fear of violence."134 A girl from Durban explained: "you cannot go to out of bounds areas by yourself."135
Nor can girls be assertive or confrontational without risk. AC, a fourteen-year-old student from Mitchell's Plain, told Human Rights Watch that she was beaten by a male classmate for talking back to him.
A boy beat me up in class while the teacher was out of the room. I was talking with my friend and he came up and asked me what we were talking about. I told him it was none of his business. He pulled and punched my arm and slapped me on my face. My face and arm were bruised and swollen.136
A girl need not be alone or in a "no go" area to be assaulted. The two students who assaulted seventeen-year-old MZ were aged nineteen and twenty at the time of the incident in March 2000, and had been on a drinking binge to celebrate the end of exam period. "It all started at school," MZ told Human Rights Watch.137 Any female students the two youth encountered during their drinking binge were groped and fondled until they could escape. MZ, already a rape survivor, encountered her two classmates as she was leaving the school grounds after classes with another girlfriend. "He forced me to kiss him and his other friend was putting his hand under my skirt."138 MZ's friend was also groped and fondled. MZ was eventually able to break away from her two classmates. "When I got home. I was still crying. It makes me so mad. I told [the school officials] because I didn't like it. I just wanted to let them know that it's affected me, it brings back the memories [of being raped]."139 MZ told Human Rights Watch she had not received medical treatment or counseling after she had been raped.
Some boys demonstrated an intolerance of girls as leaders at school, and used threats of sexual violence in efforts to undermine girls' authority. SW was threatened with sexual violence when she tried to assert her authority as a school prefect. She told Human Rights Watch:
Last year, when I was on prefect duty, I came across a group of boys gambling with dice on school grounds during a break in violation of school rules. I came up to them and told them to stop gambling. They didn't stop. I told them I was going to take their cards. They told me to go away and stop bothering them. I told them I wasn't going anywhere. Then they threatened me and said they'd have someone rape me and they pulled down their pants. But I stood my ground until the end of break when they stopped gambling and everyone went back to class. 140
Dating, Relationship, and Retaliation Violence
Hy slaan die liefde in.141 [He hits the love in.]
They [boys] think it is okay to hit girls. If you see your older brother smoking dagga [marijuana] and hitting his girlfriend you think it's okay.
SW, age seventeen
Many girls reported experiencing violence in their intimate relationships or having friends who were experiencing dating violence at school with teachers and said school officials were reluctant to intervene. One student told Human Rights Watch of the problems a friend had with her boyfriend:
[He] beats up his girlfriend; she didn't want to tell on him. He is beating her but she doesn't tell anyone. I only learned of it because I saw her crying at school one day, and she's sort of my friend so I asked her what was wrong and she told me they'd broken up. I think that's why he was beating her. They're back together now, I think, so it's over.142
One student described how her boyfriend beat her on two separate occasions at school; she described her abusive relationship in an essay as follows.
One day [my boyfriend] accused me of having a boyfriend behind his back, but I told him that I didn't. I told him if he didn't believe me he must break up with me but he refused. He told me that I must wait for him after school. So I did like he told me, we talked and he started this boyfriend thing and I told him it wasn't true. He didn't believe me. He beat me and left me there crying. The next day at school it was like I was in hell trying not to see [him]. I hated him that day. I couldn't bear to look at him. [Later] he said he was sorry he didn't mean to do it and that he loved me so much he'll never do it again. I believed him. He started accusing me [again] and he was gonna have to teach another lesson. I was scared. The last day at school came and he beat me like he never did before. He told me that he was going to kill me. I apologized and he beat me again and asked me to kiss him and I did because I was scared. I think girls must watch out who they [are] falling in love with and they mustn't trust boys and they must also look after themselves.143
Girls also told Human Rights Watch that male students used threats of violence to force girls into unwanted dating and sexual relationships.
When relationship violence occurs at school, little is done by school officials to intervene on behalf of victims. One teacher reported the following incident:
In February a student complained to me that her boyfriend raped her, I had some doubts as to whether or not they were dating. She's fine, coping. The boy is in grade 11 and goes for girls in grade 8 to 10. The school doesn't have evidence. That's why no action has been taken. She reported after two weeks had passed. The boy was suspended from another school. We're trying to help him, he's had problems at home. I've told this girl to go to the CPU [police] but she didn't.144
What may begin as battery can escalate to rape. A prosecutor acting in the case of a teenage rape victim explained that the girl's boyfriend was an older student who had been abusive to the girl, even at school, before he raped her:
I've had a case of a fourteen-year-old girl raped at home by an older male student (twenty years old) from her school. He'd hit her openly in front of teachers. They were in a `relationship.' I learned that the teachers knew of the abuse but were scared to intervene.145
Girls at an early age are involved in serious and escalating incidents of partner violence, sometimes this violence occurs at school in plain view of educators who do not intervene.146 Apart from having to deal with other dangers at school, cumulatively, such violence creates a hostile environment for girls that is anathema to learning.
It's not flirting, it's uncomfortable.
DA, age fifteen, describing sexual harassment at her school
All the touching at school in class, in the corridors, all day everyday bothers me. Boys touch your bum, your breasts. You won't finish your work because they are pestering you the whole time.
AC, age fourteen, describing sexual harassment at her school
Often some form of sexual harassment147 will precede a girl's experience of sexual violence.148 South African girls reported being on the receiving end of all manner of unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior. Adolescent girls told Human Rights Watch that they were most bothered by what they called "flirting" but described as persistent, unwanted fondling or touching by their male classmates.
A sixteen-year-old from Durban told Human Rights Watch: "Most of the boys like flirting, touching you. They'll pretend they only want to talk to you but they're really just trying to touch you. Whenever they're talking they're touching me, that kind of touching makes me feel uncomfortable."149 Several girls Human Rights Watch interviewed reported that they perceived the touching to be sexual. One girl described to Human Rights Watch how the boys in her school would touch her and other girls: "They'll touch you on your thighs, your butt. They try to touch your breasts."150 Girls were scared of being blocked or cornered in a sexual way at school. A seventeen-year-old girl told Human Rights Watch: "If I see a group of boys in the corridor, I'll just turn around and find another way to go because I know they'll do something."151
Girls complained that students and teachers alike would make sexual comments, jokes, and gestures. An eighteen-year-old student reported: "they stand underneath the stairs to look up your dress and watch you as you go upstairs."152 Girls complained that boys would show sexual pictures, photographs, and illustrations, or write them sexual messages and graffiti. Girls told Human Rights Watch that boys would call them degrading names, like "slut" and "Isifebe" [Zulu word for slut]. Girls who complained about any unwanted sexual advances were called "lesbians," particularly if they told teachers about the conduct of their classmates.153
Female students said that more girls did not complain about this behavior because they are threatened with violence, not because it didn't bother them. One seventeen-year-old student explained: "Sometimes boys threaten you-`if you tell the teacher we will meet you after school and do something to hurt you.'"154
Girls described unwanted sexual conduct as persistent and perceived the problem to be "getting worse" with boys becoming bolder. One seventeen-year-old complained: "Even a young boy came up to me trying to kiss me. The grade seven boys copy the grade nine boys."155 Girls told Human Rights Watch that boys perceived by others to be "popular" were the worst kind of offenders.156 One girl said that sexual advances made by popular boys sometimes bother her "because they think they're so great that everybody should want them. They just don't believe it when you tell them to leave you alone."157
Girls told Human Rights Watch that unwanted and unwelcome sexual behaviors were constant and consistent features of their school experience. AC, a fifteen-year-old girl from the Cape Flats, said that unwanted sexual touching, "happens to most girls, most days" at her school.158 Another fifteen-year-old girl reported: "this happens every day."159 According to one study, one in every three schoolgirls in southern Johannesburg said they experienced sexual harassment at school; of those, only 36 percent said they had reported the incident to anyone.160
One girl told Human Rights Watch that in her experience, "teachers just ignore it."161 Girls told Human Rights Watch that they sometimes experienced sexual harassment at school to be overwhelming. One girl explained how the sexual harassment made her feel powerless and frightened: "You tell them [boys] to stop, but the next day, they'll just be doing it again the next day-sometimes it feels scary."162
Violence in Transit to and from School
Travel to and from school can be a particularly precarious time for girls. Girls who have to travel long distances to school on public transportation are often subjected to threats of sexual violence and sexual harassment in transit. An eighteen-year-old girl described the trials of getting to school safely in a school essay as follows.
My worst nightmare began in 1998 when I started setting foot in Rossburgh [train] station. Everything was like a fairytale until I experienced the crime myself. Girls being jack rolled [gang-raped] and those who aren't, together with the weaker boys being robbed of their coupons, school jackets, watches and whatever expensive possessions they have is something which I thought occurred in townships ...The station is filled with gangsters. I fear these groups... but I always try not to show them. I have been for a couple of times been [sic] harassed and claimed by certain group members as being their girlfriend. I have also been promised and threatened to be slapped or rather have my ass kicked if I refused any of their dirty demands. Fortunately, the threats remained nothing more than threats.... We could identify them to the teachers and police who merely states that it is for our own good to report them in order to be free from their crimes. The only thing is, they do not know how tough one has to be to risk their lives...we never know when a friend of these thugs is our best friend.163
Older adolescent girls told Human Rights Watch that they were not only scared for themselves but that they were particularly afraid for young girls walking to school. A high school student from Alexandra township thought education about rape prevention needed to reach girls in lower grades sooner, explaining "when I was walking to school I saw a man approach a standard three girl to ask her to go with him. I could see she was scared so I stopped, went over and yelled to him: `What are you doing? She is so young!'"164 Similarly, Childline has received reports of taxi drivers having isolated young girls by dropping off other passengers first, then abducting the girl and offering her to friends or clients for sex in exchange for money.165 Poor and black girls are more likely to have to travel long distances by public transport to reach school and are most adversely affected by an increased risk of violence.
86 Department of Education, "Message from the Minister of Education" in The HIV/AIDS Emergency, Guidelines for Educators (Pretoria: Department of Education, 2000).
87 Sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of sixteen is a statutory crime in South Africa pursuant to Section 14 of the Sexual Offences Act, No. 23 of 1957. If a girl has consented to sexual intercourse, the male involved will be guilty only of contravening Section 14 of the Act. However, a girl under the age of twelve is by law incapable of consent. Unisa, Women and the Law, p. 108. According to Childline, sentences for statutory rape can vary widely from one magistrate to the next and may range from incarceration to suspended sentences to fines. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Joan van Niekerk, Durban, January 12, 2001.
88 Human Rights Watch interview with MC, age fifteen, Johannesburg, March 18, 2000.
93 Charlene Smith, "Asmal: School Rape a National Crisis," Mail and Guardian, October 15, 1999.
94 Human Rights Watch interview with PC, age fifteen, Johannesburg, March 18, 2000.
96 Human Rights Watch interview with Charlene Smith, Johannesburg, March 17, 2000; Charlene Smith, "More Abuse Claims Against Rape-Accused Teacher," Mail and Guardian, September, 24, 1999.
98 Human Rights Watch interview with MC's mother, Johannesburg, March 18, 2000.
99 Charlene Smith, "Schools Exile Children to Save Face," Mail and Guardian, November 9, 1999.
100 Human Rights Watch interview with MC's mother, Johannesburg, March 18, 2000.
101 Human Rights Watch interview with SF's mother, Durban, March 30, 2000. Human Rights Watch did not interview SF.
102 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Joan van Niekerk, January 12, 2001.
103 Human Rights Watch interview, Val Melis, Senior Public Prosecutor, Family Matters, Durban, April 3, 2000.
104 Human Rights Watch interview with SF's mother, Durban, March 30, 2000.
105 Medical Research Council, "The South African Demographic and Health Survey of 1998," in Hirschowitz et al., Quantitative Research Findings on Rape in South Africa (Pretoria: Medical Research Council, 2000), pp. 16-21. Of the women surveyed, 19.8 percent said that perpetrator was a stranger or recent acquaintance, 29.6 percent said the perpetrator was a relative or someone close. The study, conducted by the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health in 1998, questioned women between fifteen and forty-nine years of age; 12,327 women responded to a survey, of those 11,735 women were interviewed. The survey covered many issues, including information on fertility, childhood mortality rates, maternal and child health, and questions devoted to violence against women.
106 Human Rights Watch interview with PC, age fifteen, Johannesburg, March 18, 1999.
107 Childline call report, August 1999.
108 Human Rights Watch interview with MC, age fifteen, Johannesburg, March 18, 1999.
109 Childline call record, September 1997.
110 Pule Waga Mabe, "Raped at School," Mail and Guardian, November 14, 2000.
111 Human Rights Watch interview with Dumi Nala, Childline, Durban, March 31, 2000. In April 2000, the rate of exchange was approximately six South African rand per one U.S. dollar.
112 Human Rights Watch interview with Nonhlanhla Maboa, teacher, Johannesburg, March 27, 2000.
113 Prega Govender, "Teachers Prey on Pupils in Sex-for-Marks Scandal," Sunday Times, October 31, 1999.
114 Human Rights Watch interview with Xoliswa Keke, Childline, Durban, March 29, 2000.
115 Human Rights Watch interview with youth development trainer, Braamfontein, March 17, 2000.
116 Rowan Philp, "The Worst School in the Country," Sunday Times, July 11, 1999.
117 Human Rights Watch interview with Rachel Jewkes, Acting Director Women's Health Research Unit, Medical Research Council, Pretoria, March 20, 2000.
118 Human Rights Watch interview with Hlengiwe Magwaza, Childline, Durban, March 28, 2000.
119 Human Rights Watch interview with Edgar Mushwana, Northern Province member of the executive council (MEC) for Education, Johannesburg, March 24, 2000.
120 Human Rights Watch interview with teacher, Cape Town, April 14, 2000.
121 Human Rights Watch interview with youth development trainer, Braamfontein, March 17, 2000.
122 Human Rights Watch interview with teacher, Johannesburg, March 27, 2000.
123 Bareng-Batho Kortjaas, "Deputy Principal Suspended for Alleged Affairs with Three Pupils," Sunday Times, August 30, 1998.
125 Male youth participating in research focus groups told researchers that boys rape to "break a woman's pride," or "just to break a girl's dignity" or simply to "teach her a lesson." One youth is quoted as saying: "Girls think that they own the world so the only way to break them is by raping them." "The Culture of Sexual Violence: Youth Views," in Andersson et al, Beyond Victims and Villains, p. 59.
126 Human Rights Watch interview, Childline, Guguletu, April 11, 2000.
127 A rapist or his family often may pay seduction damages to compensate for a rape. A social worker explained:
Often matters are settled out of court. In situations where parents are educated, criminal complaints are laid. Otherwise, the perpetrator's and victim's family settle the matter financially. This also contributes to cases not being reported. These settlements are not the answer. Often perpetrators say they will pay and never do. In any event, the child never sees any of the money and often doesn't get the psychological and emotional support needed after the rape. What may happen is a teenager may rape a girl, he's unemployed so his parents pay the penalty and he never takes responsibility. He doesn't even pay. He learns that he can rape and get away with it. Rape someone and pay R.2,000 and it's over and resolved to the parents, not for the victim. The rapist is going to continue because he knows he did it once and got away with it.
Human Rights Watch interview with Xoliswa Keke, Childline, Durban March 29, 2000.
However, section 9(1)(b) of the 1957 Sexual Offences Act makes it "an offense for any parent or guardian of any child under the age of eighteen years to order, permit, or in any way assist in bringing about, or receiving any consideration for, the defilement, seduction or prostitution of such child." The payment of seduction damages is illegal but observed by custom.
According to Childline, in these cases the person who "brokers" the payment or deal often may take a cut-so for principals, teachers, local chiefs, or policemen to become involved in these payments can also be lucrative for them. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Joan van Niekerk, Childline, January 12, 2001. For further discussions of customary law see, Thandabantu Nhlapo, "Women's Rights and the Family in Traditional Customary Law," in Susan Bazilli (ed.), Putting Women on the Agenda (Johannesburg: Ravan, 1991); H.J. Simons, African Women: Their Legal Status in South Africa (London: Hurst, 1968); T.W. Bennett et al (eds.), African Customary Law (Cape Town: Juta, 1991).
128 Human Rights Watch interview with LB's father, Guguletu, April 11, 2000.
129 Human Rights Watch interview with LB's mother, Guguletu, April 11, 2000.
130 Human Rights Watch interview with LB's father, Guguletu, April 11, 2000.
131 Human Rights Watch interview with Childline, Guguletu, April 11, 2000.
132 Human Rights Watch interview with LB's mother, Guguletu, April 11, 2000.
133 Human Rights Watch interview with MB, age seventeen, Durban, April 5, 2000.
134 Human Rights Watch interview with Sue Goldstone, Soul City, Johannesburg, March 17, 2000.
135 Human Rights Watch interview with DA, age fifteen, Durban, April 5, 2000.
136 Human Rights Watch interview with AC, age fourteen, Mitchell's Plain, April 14, 2000.
137 Human Rights Watch interview with MZ, age seventeen, Durban, April 4, 2000.
140 Human Rights Watch interview with SW, age seventeen, Durban, April 5, 2000.
141 Human Rights Watch interview with Sue Goldstone, Soul City, Johannesburg, March 17, 2000, quoting an Afrikaans saying.
142 Human Rights Watch interview with MZ, age seventeen, Durban, April 4, 2000.
143 GS, age fifteen, essay on file with the Crime Reduction in Schools Program, University of Natal, Durban.
144 Interview with teacher, Alexandra township, March 27, 2000.
145 Human Rights Watch interview with Val Melis, Senior Public Prosecutor, Durban, April 3, 2000.
146 For discussions of adolescent relationship violence see, generally, Katharine Wood, Fidelia Maforah and Rachel Jewkes, "`He Forced Me to Love Him': Putting Violence on Adolescent Sexual Health Agendas," in Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 47, no. 2 pp. 233-242 (1998); Katharine Wood and Rachel Jewkes, `Love is a Dangerous Thing': Micro-Dynamics of Violence in Sexual Relationships of Young People in Umtata (Pretoria: Medical Research Council, 1998); Ravani Chetty, Gender Conflict Among Adolescents At Rossburgh High School (Durban: Crime Reduction in Schools Project, 2000).
147 The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000 defines "harassment" as "unwanted conduct which is persistent or serious and demeans, humiliates or creates a hostile or intimidating environment or is calculated to induce submission...and which is related to sex, gender or sexual orientation."
Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, No. 4 of 2000.
148 See Susan Fineran, Larry Bennett, and Terry Sacco, Peer Sexual Harassment and Peer Violence Among Adolescents in Johannesburg and Chicago (Boston University School of Social Work, on file with Human Rights Watch, 2000), a comparative study of peer sexual harassment and violence in South Africa and the United States describing the experience, perpetration, and reaction to such violence for students sixteen to eighteen years of age. The study found that the incidence of physical violence experienced by students in South African schools was "surprisingly high," and that "South African students experienced and perpetrated significantly more physical violence than their [American] counterparts." It concluded that "it may be that violence in South African schools is normative." See also Susan Fineran, Peer Sexual Harassment and Peer Violence: South African Children at Risk (Boston University School of Social Work, on file with Human Rights Watch, 2000).
149 Human Rights Watch interview with DA, age fifteen, Durban, April 5, 2000.
150 Human Rights Watch interview with SM, age eighteen, Durban, April 5,.2000.
151 Human Rights Watch interview with NL, age seventeen, Durban, April 5, 2000.
152 Human Rights Watch interview with SM, age eighteen, Durban, April 5, 2000.
153 Human Rights Watch interview with Ivan Thompson, teacher, Durban, April 5, 2000.
154 Human Rights Watch interview with NN, age seventeen, Durban, April 5, 2000.
155 Human Rights Watch interview with SM, age eighteen, Durban April 5, 2000
156 Ann Marie Wolpe, Orla Quinlan, and Lyn Martinez, Gender Equity in Education: Report of the Gender Equity Task Team (Pretoria: Department of Education, 1997), p. 95, confirms this view:
What is increasingly categorized under the label of violence and bullying in schools has been dealt with, in the main, through individualistic psychological approaches which completely neglect the gendered and social dimensions of this behavior. These kinds of approaches promote the belief that individual perpetrators of violent or bullying behaviors do so because of some individually based pathology or low self esteem or social skills, which need to be addressed to stop the behavior. However, ethnographic studies in schools show that many boys identified by the victims as most likely to behave in violent and bullying ways, or as leaders of groups that engaged in these behaviors, are highly competent in social terms and do not lack self confidence. The other factor frequently ignored is the investment boys have in this behavior in terms of the prestige of acceptance it gains in the male club.
157 Human Rights Watch interview with DA, age fifteen, Durban, April 5, 2000.
158 Human Rights Watch interview with AC, age fourteen, Mitchell's Plain, April 14, 2000.
159 Human Rights Watch interview with DA, age fifteen, Durban, April 5, 2000.
160 Andersson et al, Beyond Victims and Villains, p. ix.
161 Human Rights Watch interview with AC, age fourteen, Mitchell's Plain, April 14, 2000.
162 Human Rights Watch interview with JI, age sixteen, Durban, April 5, 2000.
163 LN, age eighteen, essay on file with the Crime Reduction in Schools Program, University of Natal, Durban.
164 Human Rights Watch interview, RO, age sixteen, Johannesburg, March 17, 2000.
165 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Joan van Niekerk, Childline, Durban, January 12, 2001.