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It’s time to name and shame sex predators in schools

By | November 7th 2009

By Njoki Ndung’u

"The abuse starts at the Teacher Training College, where second year students bully their first year colleagues, with the so-called male ‘counsellors’ demanding sex to sign leave out forms.

 They also threaten to report minor offences that could lead to suspension or demand sex in lieu. And here is where they do it – the hockey pitch! The first year students have no rights and are at the mercy of their senior colleagues with female students at great risk."

The above quote is an excerpt from among one of several emails I received from readers reacting to revelations of rampant sex abuse of students by teachers in schools. It offers insider information of alleged indiscretions in a TTC in Nyanza while essentially suggesting this week’s media report of a rampant sex abuse of girl students by teachers in public schools should not be shocking news; that we should have read it as a norm rather than a depressing exception.

The report indicates many girls are falling prey to amorous male teachers with nearly 13,000 cases reported to their employer, the Teachers Service Commission, within a five-year period beginning in 2003. Yet as critics have rightly noted, the real extent of the problem is likely to be much bigger as the usual conspiracy of silence and the preference for traditional "solutions" to sex crimes — such as "paying" for resultant pregnancy or marrying the victim — means many more cases are hushed up to TSC ears.

To its credit, TSC deserves kudos for the courage in commissioning the study. In doing so, it has chartered into waters that many public organisations seldom venture out of self-preservation fears that such exercises are likely yield embarrassing and controversial data.

The email I have quoted gives the sex offender problem in our schools a new twist. It suggests a more entrenched malaise; a cyclic culture that is deeply entrenched in our society. It incarnates scary evidence that rampant sexual violations are to some extent the product of growing up in a society that condones such vices that it gives them the signature of normalcy. If a boy goes to a primary school where teachers openly violate his classmates, proceeds to a high school where the evil is standard co-curricula activity and ends up in a TTC where his female colleagues score top grades more on a lonely hockey pitch than in the class, how will he graduate to a paragon of professional ethics in teacher-student relationship?

Besides instilling in tomorrow’s teachers sex predatory instincts and skills, such depravation is also unhealthy in inculcating a culture of sexually transmitted grades and other favours at the expense of academic diligence. Some female students could lose faith in classroom merit while others are forced to debase themselves for the sake of graduating. The net effect could be teachers who are ill-qualified to discharge their duties and thereby contributing to the decline of education standards.

Sack suspects

In the education sector, the problem is not restricted to TTCs for primary schools. Diploma offering colleges and universities that churn out high school and middle colleges’ teachers exhibit the same vices. This widespread nature therefore suggests TSC and other stakeholders are confronting a hydra-headed problem. It means a practical attempt to a solution will have to go deeper than interdicting or sacking suspects and culprits.

A concerted approach that must include TTCs and other colleges is a necessity. Although the Sexual Offences Act clearly stipulates as criminal offences, sexual harassment and sexual relations by teachers with their students, we must ensure culprits are brought to book and face justice in a court of law. Further, we should contemplate a sex education syllabus tailored at sensitising teachers and students on existing provisions of the law.

But as the TSC report reveals, the teachers’ employer is not doing enough to tame the problem. The unjustifiably long period between reporting incidences of sex crime and meting disciplinary action on suspects and culprits unwittingly provides a window of undeserved reprieve to the offenders, such as undesirable "home" solutions of buy-offs and compensation. Besides, offenders are often merely transferred from one station to another without as much as a deterrent warning. Is it any wonder that some serial offenders have predated on as many as 20 girls and are likely improving on their casualty figures?

TSC needs to have its own sex offenders list. The envisaged document should state the particulars of culprit and the offence committed say, name, TSC No, the crime committed, where, when and what action taken for the same, including court referral, dismissal or other disciplinary action. The list should be available to the public and preferably online. Such a list is especially useful in the teaching profession.

Even in the rare cases where TSC has sacked sex predators, the culprits often end up in private schools where their work experience is valued. Usually, the criminal side is not revealed to new employers and in the absence of a public depository of such information, many private school owners may be unknowingly providing more opportunities for renegade teachers to prey on vulnerable students. It is instructive to note that shocking as it is, the TSC report does not cover private schools. Yet those in the know will acknowledge that in the latter, the teacher-student sex problem is even more ingrained.

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