BY INGRID BROWN
THE majority of the sexual abuse cases investigated by the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) are committed in the nation’s schools where more teachers and coaches are being implicated in this horrendous crime against the children who have been entrusted to their care.
Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison said the highest number of complaints received by the OCA come from high schools and, to a lesser extent, primary institutions.
“I have been seeing a number of cases involving teachers being reported, and although we treat with all relevant authorities, such as children’s homes, places of safety, juvenile facilities, hospitals, clinics, etc, our highest customer since I have taken office (in January 2012) is the schools,” Gordon Harrison told the Jamaica Observer.
Statistics from the Office of the Children’s Registry (OCR), which acts as a clearing house for reports of abuse against children, reveal that 139 cases of sexual offences were alleged to have occurred on a school compound last year, up from the 91 reports received in 2010.
There is, however, no breakdown as to how many of these incidents involved teachers as opposed to other staff employed to the schools.
Gordon Harrison said some of these cases also involve coaches, lab technicians and other persons employed to the schools.
While the reports are not confined to the Corporate Area and St Catherine, the Children’s Advocate said these two areas feature most prominently in the number of incidents.
Gordon Harrison, a former deputy director of public prosecutions, said it was only two weeks ago that her office successfully investigated a matter in which a teacher at a Kingston high school was said to be molesting several students in his class, as well as those to whom he gave extra lessons.
“Our position is that even if the teacher has done penance and has promised he won’t do it again, it is dangerous and certainly not consistent with maintaining and preserving the protection of our children, and certainly their best interest, to have someone around in a school where other children could become prey,” she said.
Meanwhile, the children’s advocate said not all cases in these schools are easy to investigate as her office is sometimes met with silence by colleagues of the offenders.
“We go in to start an investigation and you are railroaded with silence because sometimes there are roadblocks where someone on the faculty knows about it but is not willing to speak because it is their colleague,” she said.
It is this silence which sometimes delays the investigative process and results in many of these matters not getting to the police.
Head of the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA), Superintendent Gladys Brown-Campbell said her office has not yet seen a high number of cases involving teachers, but has received several involving coaches.
In the meantime, the children’s advocate said her office is moving as fast as it can to complete these investigations but is often overwhelmed by the numbers.
“It is a worrying trend and it is something that is quite unfortunate because teachers are persons who our children spend most of the days with, and they are persons who we entrust our children to their care and expect them to be exposing their minds to very positive things, so when you have teachers who are not doing as they really should be doing then there is certainly cause for concern,” she said.
Gordon Harrison also said her office will be employing strategies to treat head-on all concerns of sex in school, such as same-sex acts and seniors performing horrendous sex acts on junior students.
As such, she said, her office has initiated dialogue with Education Minister Ronald Thwaites who has been very open to meeting to address the issues.
“We have to deal with the incidents reported to us, but that is reactive and cannot work alone, so proactive solutions will have to be found with various persons who have a stake in what is happening,” she said.
She also supported the minister’s recommendations for teachers to be licensed and for checks to be done as to their antecedents.
Thwaites’ recommendations came against an April 29 Sunday Observer story which highlighted the case of a teacher who remained in the classroom after he was convicted of indecent assault of an eighth grade student at the school where he taught for 17 years.
The teacher, who was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, suspended for three years, had continued teaching for two years at the school because both the school board and the Ministry of Education failed to take action against him.
Following the article, the education minister intervened and the school board immediately suspended the teacher.
The children’s advocate said the minister’s recommendations are excellent.
“I know there might be some resistance in some quarters and understandably so because teachers are moving from a position of security of tenure to this constant review, but I think that the state of Jamaica today, and certainly the reports we have been getting from our end, warrant that this kind of searchlight be turned on to ensure that only the most suitable and appropriate are interfacing with our children,” she said.
This legislation is one her office is anxiously awaiting as Gordon Harrison said this will ensure that teachers will not infringe on the rights of children.
President of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), Paul Adams, said the association will be reviewing its guidelines with a view to providing the necessary guidance and support to school administrations in addressing this issue.
According to Adams, the OCA has never shared its concerns or solicited the JTA’s support with the challenge it faces in getting teachers to offer information against their colleagues who have been implicated.
“We would be happy to have the children’s advocate furnish us with the challenges that they have so that we could collaborate with them in order to remove the challenges that they have indicated,” he told the Sunday Observer.
Asked whether the JTA has taken action against such perpetrators, Adams said the association will not share with the public the necessary action taken against its members.
“All I will say is that from time to time we have had to take action to protect the profession and education system,” he said.
Meanwhile, Adams said he is of the impression that there has been an increase in the reporting incidents.
“I am not sure if it is an increase in incidents and I hope not, but if there is an increase in one case it is of equally great concern to us,” he said.
Immediate past president of the Association of Principals and Vice Principals Wentworth Gabbidon said the association has been receiving reports of teachers abusing children and this is of great concern to school administrators. As such, he said this issue will be on the agenda at the next annual retreat in October.
As it relates to licensing of teachers, he said the association is putting together a response and this will be presented in a document in the near future.
“But in terms of my personal feelings as it relates to persons who commit such heinous crimes they should be made to feel the consequences of their action and the full weight of the law should be thrown at them,” he said.
Gabbidon, who is also principal of Albert Town High in Trelawny, said if a teacher has been convicted of a sexual abuse, he/she should never be allowed to teach again.
Source : jamaicaobserver