Teens, sexuality, social media and bullying

Jessica Shelver

Intimidated, threatened and scared – this is how a 14-year-old Mitchell’s Plain teenager feels after being cyberbullied and victimised for three months by fellow pupils at school and on social media.

Over the past few weeks videos showing teenagers displaying inappropriate behaviour have gone viral on social media networks.

These images captured on video have long-lasting consequences for those involved.

Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for MEC for Education Debbie Schäfer, said bullying tactics have now developed with modern technology. “We have zero tolerance for bullying in our schools. More recently, the internet and the increased use of mobile devices has provided an arena for this type of bullying which includes name-calling and using social media platforms to send threatening messages,” she said.

According to the girl, a Grade 9 pupil at a Portland school, she was found with an 18-year-old Grade 11 boy in the toilet by a teacher.

“He called me inside the toilet, we kissed and nothing else. As we walked out, a teacher saw us. We were then sent to the office and then we were accused of having had sex – oral sex. This was because according to the teacher, the boy’s pants were wet,” said the girl.

They both received letters and were suspended for 10 days. “Whe I returned from suspension, the bullying started. Rumours spread at school and on Facebook that I had intercourse with the boy, and that I am a slut,” she said.

The boy has a 16-year-old girlfriend at the same school who has a two-year-old daughter with him.

The 14 year old said she complained to the principal about the bullying at the school. “I have been in and out the office after the toilet incident. At one point my phone was stolen on the school premises. The bullies knew who it was, and there’s a great chance that they were part of it.

“Imagine being verbally abused in the classroom, while trying to focus on your education. I became frustrated. The school did not want to hear my side of the story and I then attacked one of the bullies after school, which landed me in trouble again,” she said.

The pupil said after the fight she was physically attacked by one of the mothers of the bullies and the bullies in the street.

“I can’t believe that my life changed this quickly. My mother started getting SMSes, people were being nasty on Facebook. Even the boy involved was extremely rude, and encouraged the behaviour of his girlfriend,” she said.

Her mother, who contacted the Western Cape Educaton Department (WCED), is concerned about her daughter. “All the ugliness started with the first incident. And the school does not understand this. As a parent I wanted this to be sorted out between the two parties. Now this has gone out of control, from the office, to the school and social media,” she said.

She said her daughter fears for her life and does not want to attend the school anymore.

“I don’t want my child to be victimised by these pupils. They even go as far as discussing her virginity and are defaming her. We have now sought legal advice because this behaviour cannot continue,” she said.

Recently another video went viral on Facebook, this time of an Athlone primary school girl having oral sex with a boy. According to reports this took place on the school premises, which initially was rumoured to be a Rocklands high school. It has since been established that it was a Hanover Park primary school.

The video has been shared to other Facebook profiles, and there has been numerous comments on the video.

Clinical psychologist Carin-Lee Masters, who writes the Help is at hand advice column for the Plainsman and its sister papers, said sexual awareness and experimentation is to be expected in adolescence.

She said the development is not only normal but biological in terms of sexual hormones surging through the young person’s body from around 12 years of age.

“The boy’s pants that were wet is completely normal. Adolescent boys and girls will get wet from any sexual activity, be it kissing, petting or even thinking about sexual acts.”

Ms Masters said the school and parents need to listen to the 14 year old’s side of the story. “They need to call an assembly with all pupils, more specifically with those doing the bullying and speak about the normalcy as discussed above. The shaming needs to stop by normalising this experience.

“If after an assembly this does not abate, the school can contact me to arrange a talk about sexuality for teens at the school.Otherwise, her parents should move her out of this school to another one where she can start anew. She should also change her phone number asap for safety reasons,” she said.

Speaking about the video gone viral of the Athlone primary school pupil, Ms Masters said once videos of this nature is public, there is nothing to stop it. “Unfortunately, with social media children run themselves into trouble when they post pictures of themselves that can be used by others to shame them. Once an image or video or anything goes out there onto the worldwide web, it’s just that – it is worldwide and can be used by anyone in anyway,” she said.

Sihle Ngobese, spokesperson for Albert Fritz, the MEC for Social Development, said the department makes social work services available to all parents looking for assistance with their children who are victims or perpetrators of bullying.

“Parents can access these counselling and therapeutic services for their children and family by visiting any of our DSD local offices close to them, or by contacting 0800 220 250,” he said.

Mitchell’s Plain spokesperson Captain Ian Williams confirmed that a case of common assault was opened. He said the pupil was assaulted by three girls at the school.

Speaking about the video of the Athlone primary school girl, Captain Williams said in terms of the Films and Publications Act no.65 of 1996, the possession of child pornography as well as the creation, production, importation, exportation, distribution or broadcasting thereof is prohibited by section 24B of the act.

“Failure to report one’s knowledge or suspicion pertaining to a film, game or publication which contains child pornography or the sexual exploitation of children is an offence in terms of section 24B(2)(a) of the act.

“Section 20 of the CriminalLlaw (Sexual offences and Related matters) Amendment Act.No.32 of 2007 provides for the offence of using a child for purposes of creating any image or depiction of child pornography,” he said.

Sonke Gender Justice, Child Rights and Positive Parenting portfolio manager, Wessel van den Berg, said when children bully each other they are echoing the violence that they are exposed to outside of school in their homes and communities.

“Parents, educators, the Department of Education, SAPS and Department of Social Development should collaborate to prevent violence across the whole community. Schools are woefully under-resourced in terms of psychosocial support with one social worker having to support up to 50 schools at a time,” he said.

Mr Van den Berg said better resources and management of psychosocial support services can improve violence prevention in schools dramatically.

Sonke Gender Justice communications officer for the Mencare programme, Patrick Godana, said: “One man can respect women, one man can promote equality, one man can stop abuse. The best relationship with anyone is one based on friendship and mutual respect. No always means no”.

Mr Godana said the way a person dresses is their personal choice, and not an invitation to you to react. “When you are a bystander to violence against girls, you are the best person to stop the violence. You can be the one guy in the group who can say stop,” he said.

His advice to girls is: “You matter. You matter equally. Not ‘if only’. Not ‘as long as’. You matter equally. Full Stop.”

Ms Shelver said any form of bullying can have dire consequences, and as schools, parents and educators, “we have to respond accordingly and in a timeous manner”.

Ms Shelver confirmed that there was an incident reported at the school in August this year. She said the school dealt with the matter according to the school’s code of conduct and disciplinary measures were instituted against the pupils involved.

“It has subsequently been reported that the learner has been involved in a number of disagreements/ altercations with other learners at the school. This is unrelated to the incident that was reported in August.

“It is alleged that the disagreements have not been one-sided. The school has engaged both the learners and the parents on a number of occasions. The parents of the said learner took a decision to keep their child at home in the interim as the school is completing assessments,” she said.

Ms Shelver said the pupil does, however, attend school to complete the assessments.

“We have been advised that the parents would like to register the learner at another school. This is the parents’ prerogative and the district will assist where possible,” she said.

Ms Shelver said regarding the video of the Athlone primary school pupil, the case is under investigation by SAPS.

“We are not able to comment on the case as the report is confidential and the alleged victim is a minor. The WCED has provided counselling for the alleged victim,” she said.