Sexual violence a common reality for learners in Khayelitsha

Learners and teachers from schools who participated in the HSRC study discussing the findings. Photo by Mzi Velapi

A study conducted by the HSRC and commissioned by Grassroots Soccer and Soul City Institute show alarming rates of sexual violence towards primary school girls in Khayelitsha.

The Human Science Research Council (HSRC) has published the results of a study at 24 schools in Khayelitsha, finding that a high proportion of learners experience sexual violence, including partner violence, in sexual and dating relationships. Learners, teachers and representatives from non-governmental organisations expressed mixed feelings.

Presenting the results at Chris Hani Secondary School on Friday, HSRC’s Senior Research Specialist, Ingrid Lynch said that “rates of sexual violence experienced by primary and high school learners are high, with intimate partner violence experienced by 41 percent of younger learners in the twelve months prior to the study, and high rates of educator-perpetrated sexual violence are another worrying finding.” According to the study 20 percent of learners in primary school and 13 percent in high school had experiences of sexual violence by educators twelve months prior to the study.

The study also reveals a culture of silence with 52 percent of primary school and 57 percent of high school learners having disclosed experiences of sexual violence to someone else. “The problem is that learners were struggling to name what was happening to them as violence,” she said.

The study surveyed 1,557 learners and according to Lynch “the most common forms of intimate partner violence are verbal threats, slapping, pushing/hair-pulling, hitting with a fist or object, kicking, dragging, beating, choking and threats with weapons.”

One of the key findings from the 50 focus groups conducted with learners, according to Lynch, is of intimate partner violence as a form of sexual violence. “Two things that fuel violence in the relationships are that there is this idea that if a guy buys a girl a drink or gives you a gift or gives you money for something you need, that you owe them sex and boys feel that they are entitled to have sex with them because they gave them something. The second thing is the idea of sexual consent is blurry for young people. Girls don’t feel that they can just say yes to sex, they feel that they need to be persuaded otherwise they are seen as promiscuous. The boys feel that they need to put pressure on girls to have sex because that is what is expected, they need to be pleading for sex and that ends up blurring the lines because when does yes mean yes and no really mean no. At the end of the day the boys will say she said yes and that sexual refusal is not clear,” said Lynch.

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Meanwhile, Lisa Maganda, a Grade 10 learner at Joe Slovo said that she is not shocked at the findings because young people want to have sex because that is what they see on TV. “I feel that there should be a cut-off time for children to watch TV,” said the 16-year old. Maganda also believes that children emulate adults and if adults are not positive role models to children then the children will follow what parents do.

Maganda’s views on the role of TV were echoed by 18-year-old Aluncedo Mzamo from Chris Hani Secondary school. “I’m not shocked because it is what we are exposed to as young people via TV. I also feel that parents should take responsibility for what we consume,” said the Grade 11 learner.

Seventeen-year-old Samkelisiwe Yawa from Uxolo High said that she is also not shocked that primary school children are having relationships or are experiencing violence from their partners because “it happens in our communities”. She however feels that parents need to play a pro-active role as teachers “are not able to deal with each and every learner because the classes are big.”

Life Orientation teacher at Eluxolweni Primary School, Nandipha Majodina, said that she is half-shocked because the learners mature at an early age and that the socio-economic conditions that most learners in Khayelitsha live under promotes the situation. “Most of our learners come from informal settlements where they see these things from their parents. They emulate what they see. The fact that parents leave their houses early in the morning and come back late at night means that children don’t get attention. Also there are few positive male role models where they come from,” she said.

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“We need to have a programme for boys and parents to make sure that the boys are taught how to be good men and that parents are given parenting skills to deal with this,” said Majodina.

This report by the HSRC establishes a base from which to monitor progress.  The Sexual Violence in Schools in South Africa (SeViSSA) programme is currently being implemented at schools by Grassroots Soccer and Soul City Institute. Speaking to Elitsha, Tony Gubesa from Grassroots said that the findings are so worrying that they need to adjust their interventions to address some of the problems highlighted.

Palesa Makooane from Soul City Institute said that the findings affirm what they have been doing though it also means that much more work has to be done around gender-based violence.



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