28 July 2016 - Sexual abuse series: Dr May Mkhize

Dr May Mkhize came to talk to Sizabatwana about a very difficult but important topic, child sexual abuse. She is a well respected and revered retired medical doctor served as Provincial Chair for the National Progressive Primary Health Care Network and Chief Medical Officer at Edendale Hospital Paediatrics. A lot of her work was with children as well as abused children and mainly sexual abuse. This was not easy work at all but the perpetrators needed to be prosecuted and she spent a large amount of her time testifying in court for many cases.

Dr Mkhze loves teachers and the important work that they do but also reminding everyone that teachers are the first line of defence for many children and are often a trusted adult in children's lives. Sadly sexual abuse is common and we must all be highly suspicious of anyone who spends time with your children. The Department of Health does have guidelines for educators to follow. School employees have an obligation and a legal duty to report any form of sexual abuse. It is a punishable offence for any adult to know about an instance of sexual abuse and not report it. Most children report sexual abuse to teachers but it often unfortunately stops there as there may be resistance from the family to actually report the sexual abuse. There may be fear of the perpetrator or they may provide for the family and this would stop if the sexual abuse were reported.

The statistics surrounding sexual abuse are quite frightening as 1 in 5 girls may be sexually abused and 1 in 20 boys. Once a child has been sexually abused the chances of being abused again are very high. As teachers spend a lot of time with their learners they should know what to look out for which can raise alarm bells. Often a child's concentration suffers and their behaviour can change quite drastically. There may also be physical signs such as soiling themselves or walking strangely. Unfortunately perpetrators can also be among teachers or other staff who work at a school and they have opportunities to actually plan the abuse. Most perpetrators are known to the children (this has been estimated at around 80%).

Once abuse has been reported and the family know the child needs to be taken immediately for evidence to be gathered. This is made much more difficult if the child only tells someone a while after it has taken place. So what can teachers do? The whole community is needed to combat this and to not harbour and protect perpetrators. It is not always easy and may require going to testify in court but adults, and especially teachers, are legally and morally compelled to do what it takes to protect abused children.

Some other helpful tips include speaking openly to one's learners and own children about abuse and what is and is not appropriate. To also empower children and other adults to openly think and talk about it, this is a problem that requires vast community involvement and will not easily go away. It is scary standing up to this but we are all obligated to do something and play our part.

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