School violence mirrors wider societal scourge

Pupils from Mdingi High school in Donnybrook in KwaZulu-Natal cheer as a boy and a girl fight.
Pupils from Mdingi High school in Donnybrook in KwaZulu-Natal cheer as a boy and a girl fight.
Image: Jackie Clausen

Primary schoolgirls as young as 10 are exposed to sexual violence.

This is according to the Human Sciences Research Council's report on school violence released on Friday.

Dr Ingrid Lynch, who was part of the research team, says the study was based on a five-year study conducted at 24 Khayelitsha schools in Western Cape.

"The study, in partnership with Grassroots Soccer and the Soul City Institute, will be concluded next year. Data collected is reflective of schools around the country as this was the largest study done and corresponds with other smaller studies done in the country," she said.

Lynch reports that school violence, particularly sexual violence, is as a result of wider societal violence. "It is where social norms and deep-rooted inequalities support and condone sexual violence.

Learned behaviour from our parents, in our homes and even in the media. South Africa is a society in which there is widespread male privilege and unequal and sometimes abusive relationships between women and men. This privilege is supported by gender norms that disadvantage women as well as other contextual factors," she said.

And a shocking statistic is that most of these sexual crimes are seen as normal behaviour by both genders and hardly reported. A whopping 48% of primary school learners have been affected, with the numbers being less for high school learners

Lynch says primary schoolchildren are mostly affected as they too have sexual relationships. "We undermine the complexities of their young minds. As adults we need to acknowledge that this is happening and teach them not only sexual education but relationship education and having the proper tools to deal with gender-based violence," she said.

She explains that during their focus groups, learners as young as 10 reported they had experienced being slapped, pushed, had their hair pulled by a boyfriend who also sometimes threatened to hurt their loved ones. Learners believe that when a boy spends money on them he is entitled to sex. Consent is a blurred issue.

Lynch says that one learner spoke about her boyfriend beating her when she refused him sex, but that other learners laughed and said the boy was entitled to sex. "They struggle to acknowledge that it's rape."

The report also found that 20% of primary school learners were exposed to sexual violence by an educator.

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