Girls in most danger of sexual assault at school

Johannesburg - The most dangerous place for a girl child in SA is at school and on her way to school, CEO for Child Witness Institute Dr Karen Muller said.

Muller was speaking at the Women and Men Against Child Abuse media briefing.

She said local studies, as well as a study by Unicef, found walking to school and school toilets were when children were most likely to be targeted and sexually abused.

"The most likely offenders are fellow students or teachers because fellow students who offend have also been sexually assaulted and are most likely to offend, though still at school. We have seen in the press there are a lot of teachers who have abused children while at school."

This came after several cases of sexual assault against women and girl children in recent weeks.

The Sunday Times reported that more than 20 pupils, aged between 15 and 16, had accused a school's water polo coach of sexual assault.

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7% conviction rate

The allegations emerged after the teacher, an assistant boarding school master, was caught on a surveillance camera allegedly fondling a 15-year-old pupil's genitals in the common room of the school's hostel in November 2016.

Muller said one of the problems in the country was the 7% conviction rate for sexual offenders in the country. She said it could take years for a sexual assault case to go to trial, which allows the survivor to become despondent.

"We have come across most of our cases when the parents say: 'Isn't it better to take my child to therapy and just leave the criminal justice process?' It might be better for the individual child, but it's not better for the community because the offender will do it again to someone else. On the ground there is a feeling that not enough is being done."

She said most programmes were geared toward the HIV/Aids pandemic, "but we have more sexual abuse victims than we have HIV victims. We don't talk about that. It's a silent thing that's there. The big problem is that our children are dealing with this in silence."

Eight people who claimed to have been sexually abused by the late billionaire stockbroker Sidney Frankel are heading to the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg to change the laws around sexual offences.

This would mean that sexual offences will be regarded with the same seriousness as rape.

Muller said it would be a very long fight to get the courts to acknowledge that sexual offences - other than rape - can have as traumatic an impact.

She said courts tend to be of the view that sexual offences are not as serious as rape and their sentences are therefore less.

"What we are hoping is that this judgment will send a message that sexual assault is as serious... as rape so that we can get sentencing on par."