Sexual grooming and abuse in schools is a reality we need to address

Dear Editor,

The revelations of alleged sexual grooming and abuse by a teacher at one of the nation’s most venerated secondary schools, and possibly other schools spanning the better part of two decades, is a matter of grave concern to the Child Rights Alliance (CRA). This is coupled with alleged attempts to cover up the cases of alleged sexual grooming by the school’s administrators. This situation has evoked widespread anger on the part of many who have utilized social media and letters to the editor to share their views. However, there are several issues that must be examined.

The CRA is pleased to see that the matter of sexual grooming and child abuse is now a part of our national discourse. We commend those individuals who have protested and expressed their concerns over the allegations. We are encouraged that adults are playing their part in bringing the matter to the attention of the authorities which led to the matter being brought to the public’s attention. The members of the CRA know too well the fear, trauma and hopelessness many children are forced to endure in isolation as a result of child sexual grooming and abuse. We have sensitized over 4,000 children in Regions Three, Four and Five about child abuse and the importance of reporting child abuse through our partners Orchid Foundation, Heavenly Light World Outreach Fellowship, SOCDA and FACT. In most cases children who reported that they were sexually abused by an adult were forced by the perpetrator to remain silent about the abuse. In one case, the child admitted to a CRA sensitization officer that her father sexually abused her on multiple occasions. Her grandmother was aware of the abuse but threatened to poison her if she told anyone. These children live in continual fear and despair because they feel no one will believe them or help them.

The allegations of sexual grooming at Bishops’ High School have seemingly continued along this line. Past students have alleged that their reports were brushed aside. If that was indeed the case, then one can only imagine the fear that those female students would have endured in a place where they should have felt safe. The Ministry of Education (MoE) has completed its investigation into the matter. Did they look into the alleged brushing aside of reports? The public needs to understand that this is a serious matter. There are laws that are applicable to every Guyanese including teachers and head teachers. The Protection of Children Act 2009 Section 7 (1) states “Where a person has direct information that a child is or may be in need of protective intervention, the person shall immediately report the matter to the Director (of the Childcare and Protection Agency), a probation officer … or a police officer.” Therefore, if any child made a report to a teacher or an administrator and that adult failed to report the matter the said individual has committed an offence under the Protection of Children Act. It is imperative that those past students who made their allegations against the accused, give a statement to the Guyana Police Force (GPF) as they are currently investigating the matter.

The public should not be easily satisfied even though efforts are being made to investigate the matter. There are systemic weaknesses that if not addressed can result in a reoccurrence. For example, where can a student of any school go that is readily available, easily accessible, and supportive to make reports? This episode has taught us that students are reluctant to go to the administrators for fear of further reprimand. The tape of the Head Teacher’s infamous address to the students suggests this. Sexual grooming and abuse in schools is a reality that we need to come to grips with and address. The truth of the matter is, sexual grooming and even sexual assault in schools, is more prevalent than we realize.

Due to the CRA’s presence in schools conducting sensitization sessions, it is becoming evident that younger girls are being groomed and touched inappropriately by older boys. Students need more psychosocial support than is currently provided in schools. Our children are exposed to an overwhelming quantity of ubiquitous sexual content through the mass media, social media, public transportation, billboards and other forms of advertising. They need information, counsel and guidance to not only counter the tsunami of sexually explicit content so pervasive in the public domain, but to recognize and protect themselves from would be sexual predators.

It is the duty of the state, parents, teachers and other caregivers to ensure that every child enjoys the rights that are afforded to every citizen and is protected from any harm or exploitation. It is the basic human right of every individual regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or socio economic status, to live a life that is free of sexual abuse.

December 10, 2017 is Human Rights Day. This year’s theme is, ‘Leave no one behind ‒ end violence against women’. Our leaders need to take a more proactive approach to social issues to ensure that every citizen is afforded the opportunity to progress without fear of exploitation.

The CRA commends the Bishops’ High School Old Students Association (BHSOSA) for their response to this issue. The training and support that will be provided to teachers and students will contribute in some manner to addressing the issue. However, what about the other schools? Are we that naive to think that the issue of sexual grooming and abuse may only be possibly present in one school? We would be foolish to think that the arrest of one man will

end this scourge. Central government, local government at its various levels, non-governmental organizations and all other stakeholders must invest financial and human resources, time and effort, as opposed to rhetoric, to support our children and give them every opportunity to achieve their full potential.

Yours faithfully,

Hasani Tinnie

Communications Officer

Child Rights Alliance

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