Check coaches at the school gates

There was excitement in the Johnson family when Brett Johnson* took his daughters, then aged nine and 10, to the first practice session of the outdoor hockey season. But the excitement was marred by the fact that the person who was to coach his youngest daughter was a convicted paedophile.

There had been rumours, Johnson says. “Someone told my wife and me: ‘Do you know [the club] employs a convicted paedophile?’ And we were, like: ‘No, nobody would be that stupid.’ ”

A bit of sleuthing later, Johnson confronted the club’s chairperson in the hopes of having his fears allayed. “Yes [it is him]. Is that a problem?” was the response.

“I had this horror go through my body,” says Johnson. “I just let loose on this guy. I was, like, ‘Of course it’s a massive issue.’ ”

The coach was dismissed.

“My story, luckily, doesn’t have any victims in it,” says Johnson. “Because he had been put in a position of trust again, I think he was getting ready to do it again. So I’m grateful that nothing happened and that I opened my mouth. But they should not have employed him in the first place. That was stupid and reckless.”

Luke Lamprecht of Women and Men Against Child Abuse says the inadequate vetting procedures by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), whose mandate includes competitive sports at school level, are largely to blame for the prevalence of sexual abuse cases being reported in various school sporting codes.

“There are no vetting procedures and also no policies in place that aim to guarantee the safeguarding of children,” says Lamprecht.

The need for these procedures and policies is made all the more urgent because, he says, “there is the ability to blur boundaries within sport that happens nowhere else — because of people changing [clothes and sporting outfits], being underwater, being in costumes. This allows for the boundaries to be pushed that much further and that much easier. And as a result, this needs to be more strictly monitored, rather than less, as is the current issue. Because these people are being given unfettered access to children in a world where you have lots of career offenders running around, choosing jobs that give them access to children.”

Kayleigh Michaels* was always proud of her daughter excelling at netball. But she was shattered when her daughter told her that, for two years, her coach had been sexually abusing her.

“She was completely broken. Heartbroken. So, ja, it came as a huge shock,” says the single mother of three.

Her shock was soon replaced with anger at the school’s response.

“They took it upon themselves, without going the criminal route. I do believe it was their reputation that was their main drive in the way they dealt with it. They dealt with it swiftly, but they disregarded the criminal process,” she says.

“Look,” she adds, “I don’t have a lot of knowledge about the criminal process, but I was frustrated. Because I felt like the process I believed was the right one to take, which is criminal, was not a priority for them. That really infuriated me.”

The perpetrator was dismissed by the school governing body and Michaels and her daughter are witnesses in criminal procedures against him.

Tanya de Klerk* served on the Parktown Boys’ High School school governing body when Collan Rex was last year found to have sexually abused boys while he was the school’s assistant water polo coach.

He initially faced 327 charges, but was convicted on 144 charges of sexual assault and 12 of common assault of 23 pupils. De Klerk believes that “unless you have a hands-on team from Sascoc who are going to have real conversations with SAPS [South African Police Services], with investigating officers and prosecutors, there will always be this grey area that you find in schools and sporting facilities. It is very worrying.”

By way of example, she says: “Let me tell you what happened. [Rex] got arrested and put in jail. Then he gets bail and at the start of a new year — obviously by then the school had gotten rid of him — we got a call from another school saying they’d like a reference; he’s got the job as their water polo coach. That kind of thing … it takes your breath away. When we said to that headmaster: ‘Sir, here is the case number; it was also in the press,’ his words were: ‘We must be very careful; he hasn’t been charged yet and we could be held liable if we make allegations.’ ”

De Klerk adds: “There is always the same modus operandi: you employ teachers or adults who are not qualified, not vetted, have criminal records.

“Then you get caught out and try and shut down the parents and the kids because you’re in trouble. You don’t worry about fixing or supporting the kids and communicating to the school that touching a child sexually is a crime. Sascoc is doing this and schools are doing this.”

In May, Sascoc, in partnership with Jose Foundation, hosted a Safeguarding in Sport conference in Sandton, Johannesburg, where a task team was established to formulate a safeguarding policy for sport. Sascoc’s Debbie Alexander is heading the team.

She says that to date, only 118 coaches are registered with Sascoc.

“Sascoc, through the professional body [for coaches], has programmes that incorporate safeguarding, child protection and anti-doping, to mention a few safety measures. Every coach is compelled to have undertaken these programmes in order to be registered. Further, all officials, administrators, coaches and team managers who travel with Team South Africa to any games, especially with athletes who are under 18 years of age, are required to sign a form in terms of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 32 of 2007, which confirms that they have not been involved or charged or implicated in any inappropriate behaviour with regard to minors.”

Michaels says that since word got out of her daughter’s abuse and that of other girls at the school, there has been “no reaching out from anyone, which I thought was quite slack from Sascoc’s side. Because these children represent our province and our country.

De Klerk adds: “We want the system changed. The issue that caused these people to get close to these kids … they need to show us that they have closed the gates. And at Sascoc … that’s where the holes in the gates are.”

Having successfully passed through these gates, Michaels’s daughter’s abuser has caused untold harm.

As to how her daughter is doing, Michaels pauses, sighs and says: “Not good. She had to leave school because of the victimisation. Lots of rumours started going around. She was victimised in class and even by some of the teachers. She is now completing school with home school.

“She hasn’t been well emotionally. Extensive headaches. She’s just been unwell, you know. She does go to therapy. We all go, in fact, because we are all girls [in the family]. It’s been a huge challenge. She’s been extremely strong, but she is struggling. She is really struggling.”

* Names have been changed to protect their identities. Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the M&G

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Carl Collison
Carl Collison
Carl Collison is a freelance journalist who focuses primarily on covering queer-related issues across Africa

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