Garry Hertzberg, practising attorney at Dewey Hertzberg Levy and the host of the Laws of Life with Garry Hertzberg on Cliffcentral.com writes:
The recent allegations of sexual assault by a water polo coach at Parktown Boys’ High School have brought sexual abuse into the spotlight.
According to the school, video footage was discovered of the abuse while they were investigating an incident of a stolen bag. The matter was reported to the police and the parent of the child was informed. The accused was arrested and released on bail.
More than 20 boys have since come forward saying that they had also been abused by the same water polo coach. It is shocking, but almost expected, that no one had come forward before as there seems to be a culture of silence around this kind of abuse.
Had these boys known that they had a legal duty to come forward and report their knowledge that the coach was abusing other boys, or even one other boy, perhaps some of this abuse could have been avoided.
The legal duty to report arises from our Sexual Offences Act which places a legal obligation on all persons to report any knowledge, or even a reasonable suspicion of sexual offences against children or mentally disabled persons. A failure to report to the police is an offence and on conviction can result in a prison sentence.
That is not to say that they should be prosecuted for not coming forward, but that they should be made aware of their legal duty to protect each other and this could have been the motivation that they needed.
It should not only be a legal duty but a moral duty for all men to stand up against predators, to speak out against acts of violence against women and children. Men have been labelled as the perpetrators of sexual violence and those who are not should be making a difference, and this sense of accountability should be nurtured from a young age.
South Africa suffers from a plague of sexual and domestic violence and the first line of defence is speaking out, even if it is against someone you respect, a friend, a colleague, a parent or a lover.
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