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Is Gender-Based Violence Taken Seriously by Our Youth?

As we celebrate Youth Month, it seems that our youth is oblivious to the ramifications of acts of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) perpetrated by them, against them or amongst their peers.

As we are celebrate June 16th Youth Day as well as an entire Youth Month to highligt the importance of the youth of our country, there seems to be either a subconscious oblivion, or worse; a conscious suppression of the fact that particularly in our schools, there are increasing incidences of Gender-Based Violence among our youth.

Recently I’ve provided legal assistance to a 13-year-old girl who was assaulted at school by a 16-year-old boy.

My experience of engaging the school (teacher and learners) and the community has left me questioning whether we take gender-based violence seriously.
Are we perhaps merely paying lip service to something that was pronounced to be a pandemic at the highest level of government?
This is concerning because if gender-based violence among youth is not taken seriously by schools and by the community, or by the youth themselves, it is highly likely that these incidences of assaults are grossly underreported.

In June 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa, in response to the increasing number of women and children being assaulted and murdered during the Covid19 National Lockdown, announced gender-based violence as the second pandemic.

The ordinary meaning of pandemic is a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease over a whole country or the world at a particular time. Why did the President refer to gender-based violence as a pandemic? What is the disease that must be cured within us to prevent the symptoms of gender-based violence?

To understand why I question whether we take gender-based violence among our youth seriously, I need to tell the story of the brave 13-year-old girl (hereafter referred to as Girl), who in the face of opposition from her peers and some teachers, courageously took a stand.

This Was No Ordinary School Kid Squabble

The incident of assault can be summarized as follows: The Girl was requested by her teacher to accompany another boy learner to obtain a “yellow form” from a teacher in another class. The Girl followed her teacher’s instruction and upon entering the other class, she approached the teacher and conveyed the message she was requested to. The Girl and the boy learner she accompanied stood in front of the board. As the class could not read the writing on the board, a 16-year-old boy rudely asked her to move out of the way. The Girl said that the 16-year-old boy swore at her to which she defended herself by saying there was no need for him to speak to her in that manner and that he can ask differently.

This may seem like an ordinary school squabble but as she and the boy learner she had to accompany left the class, she was pursued by the 16-year-old boy and then assaulted. The 16-year-old boy also threatened to incite another girl to assault her further. The boy that she accompanied, instead of saying to the 16-year-old boy not to hit her, laughed and ridiculed her for what had happened. This boy also later informed their class of the assault which led the Girl being further ridiculed.

Gender Based Violence in Schools often goes unreported due to Victim Blaming & Secondary Victimisation

This form of assault is a criminal offence and in terms of the school’s code of conduct, this action could lead to a suspension. However, to these learners the assault was a joke and the victim someone to be ridiculed and further traumatized.

The Girl was of course severely traumatized by the assault, no longer felt safe at school, disrespected and humiliated by her peers. The parents of the Girl took the necessary precautions to ensure their daughters safety. These parents endured sleepless nights.

The 16-year-old boy was subsequently suspended.
A mediation took place between parents which was followed by a disciplinary hearing.
The disciplinary hearing was followed by an internal meeting to ascertain whether there was provocation.

Victim Blaming & Secondary Victimisation

Ii is still unclear to me what the actual facts are around the allegations against the Girl that were brought to our attention following their internal hearing. Initially, I believed it was the teacher who made the statement saying the 13-year-old girl used language to provoke the boy. However, the perpetrator boy mentioned another word at the disciplinary hearing. This is a contradiction of the previously stated ‘facts’. It turns out, the teacher was merely stating what the unnamed learners had said. This is called hearsay which is like gossip. It also contradicts what the perpetrator had said at the disciplinary hearing.

There was also a statement made by the Student Representative Council about the girl’s personality and character that fed into the narrative that the 13-year-old girl could possibly have provoked the boy.

Of course, the school had a responsibility to investigate these claims. However, this is the unfortunate outcome for the victim when laying a complaint. Facing an attack on her person and bringing her character into question is a usual occurrence that the victim will have to experience. I viewed this as a form of assault common and defamation to her character. It is also famously known as secondary victimization.

Secondary victimization refers to the victimization that occurs as a direct result of the criminal act, however, through the response of the institutions and individuals to the victim. This could be “victim-blaming” and insensitive behaviors towards the victim that further traumatize the victim.

A Flawed System of Addressing GBV at Schools

Why does society or the community in some way want the victim to carry some blame and be responsible for the assault inflicted upon her?
Support was provided for the perpetrator; however, support for the 13-year-old girl to help her deal with post-traumatic stress of what happened, had to be requested.

One of the teachers in conversation with the Girl’s parents, made a remark which gave an indication that he seemed irritated for being ‘inconvenienced’ by the complaint and said “there are many incidents we have too many in a week…”

I therefore am of the view that gender-based violence is not taken seriously amongst teenagers. Perhaps it is because children mimic what they see in their homes. Therefore, it will not be taken seriously at school and probably why there are “too many in a week…” to deal with it appropriately and expeditiously.

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I do believe that this is an opportunity to highlight these flaws and see how the system can be improved.

Firstly, incidents of gender-based violence must be reported otherwise it will go unnoticed. Secondly, education and awareness about gender-based violence is essential. Thirdly, the schools must provide adequate support to the victims of violence in schools.

I conclude by applauding the 13-year-old girl because without her raising the alarm, gender-based violence, bullying and other forms of violence could have continued to go unnoticed in her specific school.

Advocate Zelna Jansen is an attorney specialising in Constitutional Law and Policy Reform, an Opinion Writer and Thought Leader.

What do you think?

Written by Zelna Jansen

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