n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Sexual harassment in Free State schools : an exploratory study

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Despite the serious legal, emotional, health and educational consequences sexual harassment holds for perpetrators, victims and educational authorities alike, it seems as if a culture of silence and acceptance surrounds sexual harassment in schools. The Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, warns that "if we allow violence, abuse and drugs to become a familiar and accepted part of schooling, our future is lost". This article attempts to heed the Minister's warning by reporting on the findings of a survey on Free State learners' exposure to peer and educator-to-learner sexual harassment. The article also probes the influence of demographic variables on sexual harassment. A self-reporting questionnaire, based on Fitzgerald's Sexual Experience Questionnaire and Timmerman's questionnaire on unwanted sexual behaviour in secondary schools, was completed by 474 Grade 8 to12 learners. Frequency tables, ratios, one-way ANOVA and the t-test were used to analyse the data. The data revealed that Free State schools are not "hell-holes of sexual violence". Nevertheless, verbal, non-verbal and physical peer and educator-to-learner violence is fairly common in some schools. Although literature places a lot of emphasis on the sexual abuse of learners by their educators, peers were identified as the main perpetrators in all the forms of sexual violence, including rape, in this study. It was also found, contrary to most research findings, that the greater threat to sexual harassment in schools is to school boys and it comes mostly from harassment by fellow male learners. Nonetheless, the sexual abuse of girls is also a serious problem in some Free State schools. The study noted the influence of demographic variables on school violence. It was found, for example, that school size has a statistically significant influence on learners' exposure to different forms of sexual harassment and the fact that children attending large schools are exposed to more forms of sexual harassment than those attending smaller schools. Recommendations on how to address peer, as well as educator-to-learner sexual harassment are also provided.


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