School Ties flags abuse signs to save victims

Rather than sensationalising the details, the series focuses on expert interviews with child protection experts to help parents to identify tell-tale signs of sexual abuse in their children.

A GROUND-BREAKING and harrowing four-part documentary series, School Ties, about grooming and sexual abuse of learners at some of South Africa’s most prestigious boys’ schools is set for premiere on May 16 at 9pm on M-Net DStv channel 101.

Schoolchildren in South Africa are experiencing rampant sexual abuse and grooming largely at the hands of those who are in charge of their care and education at school.

This is in addition to varying degrees of bullying, substance abuse, verbal abuse, racism, gangsterism, weapons and vandalism.

In 2019, the South African Council of Educators recorded 122 cases of sexual abuse of pupils by teachers noting that two out of three cases go unreported.

Produced by Devilsdop, Steinheist and Convict Conman producers Idea Candy, the documentary series uncovers the truth behind grooming and abuse in schools across South Africa, the aftermath and what government, schools and society are doing to stop abuse in its tracks.

The four episodes tackle a case at a time. The suicide of 16-year-old Thomas Kruger after an allegedly inappropriate relationship with the school’s charismatic water polo coach, another water polo coach was caught on surveillance camera abusing boys in his care, at a school where silence was maintained for too long.

The documentary series also explores Julio Mordoh’s suicide a decade after allegedly being subjected to abuse by a school sports coach and the discovery of a previously convicted water polo coach who was located working with children at a holiday camp in the United Kingdom.

Rather than sensationalising the details, the series focuses on expert interviews with child protection experts to help parents to identify tell-tale signs of sexual abuse in their children.

The documentary unpacks the history of elite institutions that in many cases act as a breeding ground for these behaviours and speaks to the law enforcement team involved in investigating the wide-ranging abuse that occurs at schools across the country.

The documentary series director Richard Finn Gregory said the production of the documentary was harrowing to make as the accounts of abuse are hard to listen to.

“We met survivors of abuse who found the inner fortitude and courage to speak out. We spent time with child protection experts who work with cases of sexual assault and grooming all day long, and yet find the will to get up every morning and do it again, in their efforts to make a difference,” Gregory said.

“We also spoke to parents whose children had taken their own lives, and yet they refused to let this experience crush them. They chose to speak out about their children’s lives, so that their passing will not be in vain and other boys can be protected from abuse.”

Gregory said there were also stories of hope and resilience in the face of unimaginable tragedies that must be told.

“The documentary series School Ties aims to bring into focus the solutions and interventions that need to be adopted to safeguard learners at schools.

“Although the tragedies that have occurred are heart-breaking, there is the opportunity to ensure that we address and re-look systems that should be protecting scholars,” Gregory noted.

The documentary producer Wim Steyn said in creating School Ties, there was no desire to simply create moral panic, but rather to highlight an urgent issue.

“Nobody can change the psychology of predators and those who engage in the grooming of children. However, our hope in sharing these very personal accounts is to create a space where children, parents, educators and schools have the information to identify the possible scenarios where inappropriate behaviour might take place before it happens and to feel empowered to strengthen their systems as much as possible,” Steyn said.

The series will also livestream on DStv Stream and on DStv Catch Up after broadcast.  

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