The suicide of a convicted sexual offender has put the spotlight on the National Register for Sex Offenders as the Mitchell’s Plain resident was still found to have been working with children recently.
Brian Shofer, 58, who had been teaching at Lourier Primary School in Retreat up until last term, made headlines when he was arrested for rape at his London Village home last week.
He was nicknamed the “Gumtree paedophile” because he recently placed adverts on the site to tutor school children – despite being a convicted sexual offender.
Shofer was held at Lentegeur police station holding cells and appeared in the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday July 27 on the charge but was found dead in his cell on Friday July 29.
Captain FC Van Wyk, provincial police spokesperson, confirmed that a death had occurred in the police holding cells at Lentegeur police station.
Eric Ntabazalila, the National Prosecuting Authority’s provincial spokesman, said Schofer faced a
rape charge in connection with crimes against boys aged between 12 and 18 years old. He added that Shofer was to face more charges.
Robbie Raburabu, acting national spokesperson for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), said the suspect had been remanded to the police cells because there were further investigations still to be carried out in the case.
It was found that Shofer had been appointed as a teacher at Lourier Primary School by the school governing body.
Western Cape Education Department (WCED) spokesperson Millicent Merton confirmed that he had been employed by the Lourier Primary School Governing Body from April to June.
“SGBs are responsible for checking the backgrounds of SGB employees, at least whether they are registered with the South African Council of Educators (SACE).
“The WCED will assist schools, as required, if they need this assistance,” said Ms Merton.
The SGB chairperson Bazil Williams as well as Lourier Primary School principal Rashida Jardien declined to answer any of Southern Mail’s questions regarding Shofer and referred all questions to the WCED. “We are not at liberty to speak about the issue at the moment,” said Ms Jardien.
Ms Merton said the department records details of teachers found guilty of sexual abuse on Persal, the government’s employee records system. “The department will not employ any teachers found guilty of sexual abuse. The WCED also reports all cases to the SACE,” she said.
The council then removes teachers found guilty of sexual abuse from the national register of professional teachers. Teachers have to have SACE registration to be able to work as a teacher.
An agency, MIE, that specialises in background checks, checks this for the WCED and has direct access to police and court records.
“The service is probably more reliable than the sex offenders register because it works with original databases and does not rely on a third party to copy the data across. We also check Persal to see if a potential employee who worked previously for government was ever convicted of an offence, including sexual offences, and lastly we check whether teachers are registered with SACE,” said Ms Merton.
Ms Merton said counsellors and social workers were provided to work with the school and pupils.
The mother of two children who attends Lourier Primary School, was shocked to learn that Shofer had been employed at their school.
The woman, who did not want to be named, said her son interacted with Shofer twice.
“My son told me that he approached a group of boys and talked to them about soccer. The other time my son only saw him briefly and he thought he was a very nice man,” said the mother.
“I was in disbelief when I heard the news because he (Shofer) had access to so many children. I don’t understand how a known sex- ual offender had access to vulnerable children,” she said.
After learning Shofer had committed suicide, the mother got upset. “Now he won’t pay for his crimes and that is unfair but at least the world is rid of one more pervert,” she said.
The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said when a person is convicted of a sexual offence against a child or a mentally disabled person, a judge or the magistrate must make an order directing that the details of an offender be included in the National Register for Sex Offenders. “It does not matter whether the conviction was made on or before the commencement of the act. The National Register for Sex Offenders is kept in a confidential manner but can be accessible in a prescribed format by any person who falls within the the required categories,” he said.
According to Shofer’s Facebook account, he attended Progress College and SACS High School. He has three Facebook profiles with few posts since 2013.
One of his first posts, on June 4 in 2013, read: “I am looking for young or old friends as I am lonely and would like to forge strong and lasting friendships”.
Doctor Marcel Londt, senior lecturer at the University of the Western Cape in the Department of Social Work, said paedophilia is a complex problem with many nuances. “It is not considered a mental disorder as such, but many symptoms of mental challenges may be present, for instance, personaility challenges, mood distrubances, depression, impulsivity,” said Dr Londt.
She said we need to shift the focus to the many victims that will be impacted by his death and the way he died.
Dr Londt said sex offenders can be treated if their risk profile is assessed, adding that paedophiles’ emotional incongruence and the devious behaviour make children a safe option. But, when their pathways are stopped, they may revert to families and individuals who are highly vulnerable.
“We need to strengthen the resolve of all our children, decrease their vulnerability that makes them susceptible to paedophiles. We need to give children the tools to feel confident about themselves,” she said.
Carmen de Vos, a senior social worker at The Parent Centre, said parents try to protect their children at all cost, and discussing sexual abuse is not something they would prefer to do.
“Children need to know that they can tell you anything and you will not dismiss it, blame them or get angry. Listen to them. Being open to discussing sexuality is an excellent base to prevent sexual abuse,” she said.
Ms De Vos said parents should allow children to reject hugs and kisses if they do not feel comfortable. In this way they will learn that they do not need to allow the abuser to touch them.
Ward 79 Mitchell’s Plain councillor, Solomon Philander, who is a trained social worker, said parents should put all safety measures in place and check references before they allow any person to assist or take care of their child without parental supervision.
Mr Philander appealed to all early childhood development centres, schools, or any employer that works with children to ensure all staff is checked against the National Register for Sex Offenders before employed.
Sihle Ngobese, spokesperson for Albert Fritz, MEC for Social Development, said before Shofer killed himself they had formally requested the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (CoJCD) and the courts, to place him on the National Child Abuse Register. The register is administered by the CoJCD.
The public can contact the department by visiting any local or regional DSD office closest to them, or by contacting the DSD hotline on 0800 220 250.
Plainsman contacted the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to ask whether Shofer had been placed on the National Child Abuse Register and details about access to the list, on Friday July 29, but the department failed to respond by the time this edition went to print.