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Eastern Cape Schoolgirl Awarded R5m in Damages for Rape at 'Haunted' School Fundraiser

Published March 11, 2024
2 months ago

In a landmark ruling, the Eastern Cape Department of Education has consented to a R5-million settlement with a young woman from Nelson Mandela Bay. The agreement is in response to a horrific incident that occurred when the woman, then an 11-year-old schoolgirl, was raped during a school fundraising event six years ago at the Susannah Fourie Primary School in Kariega.

The settlement marks a significant recognition of the trauma and enduring psychological damage that the victim, now 19 years old, has suffered since the assault. It also brings into sharp relief the continued risk of gender-based violence that schoolchildren face, even in environments that should be secure and supportive.

The incident took place on May 4, 2016, under an ill-conceived 'house of horrors' event aimed at entertaining students. The girls' bathrooms were turned into a darkened 'ghost house,' and students were charged an entrance fee. Two men, disguised with masks intended for student use, took this opportunity to perpetrate the sexual assault in the unsupervised space.

This attack was not the young woman's first experience with sexual violence, having been assaulted at eight and nine years old by family members. The repeat victimization underscores the complex web of challenges facing survivors of gender-based violence, including the reluctance of families to pursue legal action and the failure of systems meant to protect the vulnerable.

The court's documents reveal that the Eastern Cape education department admitted to its employees' negligence in organizing the risky school activity and agreed to the multi-million Rand settlement as compensation for the young woman's extensive emotional and psychological injuries. These include a diagnosis of emotional trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and tension headaches.

Her academic performance has been adversely impacted. Once a bright and promising student, she has faced bullying and has had to relocate schools multiple times, each move bringing its own set of challenges and disruptions to her education. Thus far, the Department of Health has failed to provide adequate psychological support, with just eight therapy sessions facilitated following the incident.

The settlement brings a form of closure to the legal aspect of her ordeal, yet it also highlights the systemic failures of the Eastern Cape Department of Education, which still lacks a published policy to address sexual harassment and misconduct in schools. Comments from Yusuf Cassim of the DA project an unsettling picture of the department's sluggish response to gender-based violence and its associated policies.

The story serves as a stark reminder of the pervasive threat of sexual violence in South African schools and the struggle for justice and support survivors must endure. It raises critical questions about the safeguarding of children in educational institutions and the measures needed to protect those who are most vulnerable.

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