/ 16 November 2018

More trauma for abused schoolboys

Collan Rex’s sentencing was postponed because a report was incomplete. His victims’ families are enraged by the social workers’ handling of the case.
Collan Rex’s sentencing was postponed because a report was incomplete. His victims’ families are enraged by the social workers’ handling of the case. (Alaister Russell/ Gallo Images/Sowetan)

Since becoming known as one of the boys who was sexually assaulted at Parktown Boys’ High School, June Andrews’s son has not been the same.

“My child doesn’t talk. He doesn’t interact with the family. He locks himself away. He is failing at school. He doesn’t eat,” says Andrews, who chose to use a pseudonym.

Collan Rex, the former water polo coach at the well-known Johannesburg school, was convicted on 144 charges of sexual assault and 12 of common assault of 23 pupils between the ages of 13 and 16.

Andrews adds that, because of “the circus” around the case, her son has repeatedly been retraumatised.

“Since he admitted to being one of the boys, he has had to speak to this one and that one — people at the school, then psychologists, then the advocates, then the police. By that time, he literally goes into frozen mode. He doesn’t trust these people; he doesn’t know them from a bar of soap. And now he has to tell them very, very intimate details of things he doesn’t want to relive. And not once, but repeatedly. He is always rattled for days afterward.”

The final straw came when her 17-year-old had to speak to social workers to put together statements as part of Rex’s probation officer’s report. The aim of the report is to look into Rex’s circumstances as well as those of his victims to assist the court in coming to an appropriate sentence.

Andrews says that her son was first sent a WhatsApp message “out of the blue” requesting a meeting with him. The message came from one of the eight social workers tasked with interviewing the boys for the report.

“He doesn’t know this person from a bar of soap, so fuck knows where she got the number from. He didn’t bother to respond, of course, because he didn’t know what’s going on.”

The following Saturday, her son forced himself out of seclusion and invited a few of his friends to his home.

“All of a sudden, this woman pitches up at our house, saying she’s here to speak to him. She didn’t make an appointment and he’s got a house full of his mates. She effectively outed him to his buddies as one of Rex’s victims. My child was beyond traumatised. He just started screaming, ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t … send her away. Who is she? What does she want from me?’”

Andrews adds that the incident has pushed her son further into his reclusive state.

“Needless to say, he is not speaking to anybody. He’s saying, ‘It’s enough Mom, I can’t any more’.”

Other parents whose sons had been abused by Rex have also voiced their anger with the way in which social workers have dealt with the case.

On October 31, the high court in Johannesburg was to begin sentencing procedures, but, because the report was not compiled on time, sentencing had to be postponed to November 27.

Voicing his frustration, Judge Peet Johnson said: “I am upset by this situation. They had ample time to compile the report. I can’t allow this to happen. I am so upset.”

Thulisile Nhlapo, spokesperson for Minister Susan Shabangu, says the minister will be briefed “by next Tuesday” on the matter. “We will [then] be in position to say what steps have been taken to make sure whatever led to the case being postponed on the part of social workers doesn’t happen again.”

Luke Lamprecht, spokesperson for Women and Men Against Child Abuse, says he is enraged.

Referring to the social workers’ dealings with the boys as “a disaster”, Lamprecht says another boy “was so traumatised, he ran away”.

In that instance, says Lamprecht, the social worker not only got to the appointment late, but the interview was also conducted in a shopping mall because she was unable to find the family’s home.

“Then, when she got there,” says Lamprecht, “she was talking and laughing on her cellphone before interviewing him. This boy was so distressed, he ran away. He actually ran away.”

The experience Mitch and Carol Booysen (also pseudonyms) had was less unpleasant. Mitch, however, takes issue with the “box-ticking” questions his son and the rest of the family were asked.

Although the social worker who interviewed the family was “lovable, sweet, kind and empathetic”, Mitch says: “I don’t think she had any idea of what was really going on, in terms of the depth and breadth of this whole experience.”

Describing the interview session as “very ra-ra, clap-clap”, Mitch says: “She never asked, How did your family react? Or what have you gone through? It was more like, Is everything okay now? No questions like, Have you lost sleep because of this? Or how did this affect you and your family?”

After a long pause, Mitch sighs and says: “My son and I were extremely close, but once this started happening … you know, all males are not to be trusted. So my son was 15 years old when I had to start rebuilding a relationship with him. To make him trust me again. So you see? Are you with me? She didn’t go into that kind of stuff. None of these things were asked.”

The experience has led Mitch to call the process of compiling the assessment report “an absolute farce”.

For Carol, having gone to court on the day sentencing was to begin and then being told the report was not complete was “enormously frustrating”. But her focus is on her son and “just hoping he will heal”.

“He is still on antidepressants. At one stage he started cutting himself,” she says.

“So you see, when one is faced with a child who has so much trauma, the only way to survive is to really focus on the hope that they heal.” She pauses as she tries to stop herself from crying.

“You focus on the healing. You count your blessings when there are less angry days and more happy ones. Because at some stage there are only angry days — when that’s their only emotion. And you just really hope that there will be justice.”

Lamprecht says that, because there are numerous departments responsible in the chain, “if one part messes up, it causes additional trauma to children. So the system is a deterrent for people to speak up. The system that engages these victims is abusive in its own right.”

He adds: “One has a higher expectation of them [the social workers] and the way they engage” because they are trained mental health practitioners.

Nhlapo says: “The families deserve better treatment from us as their [civil] servants. They can’t be subjected to secondary trauma. All cases are important and they must be dealt with thoroughly, to resolve them and assist those that we serve — not just tick a box that it’s done.”

Still, Andrews is angry. “My son was raped. Raped,” she says. “I’m angry. I’m angry because these people are not taking it seriously.”

Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the M&G