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Parent reveals paedophile’s modus operandi

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GILLIAN KLAWANSKY

“Historically, as a society, we find it difficult to believe allegations or acknowledge the signs that child sexual abuse is happening,” said Sack.

Abusers aren’t the monster in the dark alley, she explained. They’re master manipulators, nice guys – the philanthropist, community hero, beloved teacher or coach. “They gain children’s trust through their ability to connect emotionally with them, and they groom a child’s family to trust them implicitly. Over 93% of the time, the abuser is someone known and trusted by the child.”

This was the case at Parktown Boys High in Johannesburg, where boys were systematically sexually abused by Collan Rex, assistant water polo coach and hostel master. Now a convicted paedophile, Rex was recently sentenced to an effective 23 years in prison.

Nicky, a parent and former Parktown Boys High board member whose surname is withheld to protect her child, together with a matron and another board member, investigated and blew the whistle on the abuse at the school. She revealed how the boys and parents were groomed.

“This was a paedophile operating within a system that had groomed a whole group of boys,” said Nicky. “Our journey started when we enrolled our kid at the school. At an introductory tea, they say to the parents that it’s time to give your children into their care – they will turn your son into a gentleman. The underlying message is that a mother’s influence is not welcome anymore; you’ll sissify your boy. Already, you’re groomed to back off, leave your son to the school, and let him man up. That in itself puts you in a mindset where you’re already minimising whatever complaint your child may have.”

After their first few days at school, new boys get put on a bus and taken to an initiation camp, explained Nicky. “Here, they’re brutally assaulted, physically and verbally, by the matric boys. The teachers go and leave them to the matrics. They put the fear of G-d into these children about what will happen if they snitch… this brotherhood is set up and this code of silence wired into them. This protects more than just a paedophile – it protects teachers, who often shirked their duties.”

As a Parktown old boy, Rex knew this system was in place, explained Nicky. “Under the code of silence and protection that the adults had, the paedophile came back into the school and took full advantage.

“During school hours, he got into the swimming pool with the boys while they were practising water polo, and he began grooming them. He started touching boys under the guise that this was normal water polo training: if your opponents do this to you, which he said is a normal thing, he’s got you ready for it. He started seeing who would accept his touch and finding out which boys were vulnerable. He carved relationships with boys who had a single dad or mom, for example,” said Nicky.

“He also had more access to boys living in the hostel. He’d isolate these boys when he had them alone, and he started introducing them to drugs and pornography. Once he’d enticed them to commit a taboo act, like taking drugs or doing something sexual in front of him, he’d have these boys enslaved. Because the threat was ‘if you tell on me, I’ll tell on you’. Then he’d take it further from there.”

Eventually, CCTV cameras were placed in common areas by new hostel management, and the abuse was uncovered by accident. “What was so disturbing about the finding was that the boys were so relaxed about it,” said Nicky. “They were in a common room, he was molesting the child in front of all the others, and they just carried on playing on their phones. As we started unpacking it, the length of time that it had been going on for was even more shocking – that in this environment, with so many people seeing it, nobody would say a word.”

After the video came to light, the boys in it would not speak out for several days. “They said, ‘He’s our friend, we love him, and he loves us.’ Such was the extent to which they’d been groomed.”

Nicky shared some observations she and the people investigating the abuse uncovered. “Paedophiles never operate in isolation,” she said. “There’s always a group of adults around them who’ve enabled it. As parents, we need to know who the school’s employees are. We saw that many teachers who are being employed as educators aren’t registered with the South African Council for Educators, which means it’s difficult to sanction them.

“This is especially true of sports coaches with no educational training. Employees’ backgrounds are not checked, and schools aren’t checking the sex offenders list. Often, abusers just resign and aren’t reported to the council or the criminal justice system. So, they go to another school and get hold of another group of kids. Adults around children need to be held accountable. This could reduce child abuse dramatically.

“Parents must ask whether teachers have been adequately trained, not just in the subject, but also in child development,” Nicky continued. “Do they understand the child’s mind and how to deal with certain situations? A lot of our educators today don’t, and that’s a problem. Parents also have a lot to do with the grooming of their child. They learn to look the other way and tolerate these things so their child gets into first team or provincial team sport, for example. They’re often groomed themselves.

“As parents, we need to be examining where we’re putting our kids in school,” added Nicky. “If your child says to you ‘it’s ok, mom’, you can’t actually always believe them.”

Nicky said there were signs that something was wrong with her son, although he told her nothing. He became silent and withdrawn, and he slept a lot. “But unless you have context to those signs, you won’t get it.”

The boys have now started their long-term healing process. Said another Parktown Boys High mother: “For kids to see that Rex went to jail, that it was a proper crime, that what he did was very wrong, helped with closure. We can see the change in them.”

Concluding the evening, Sack brought the issue closer to home. “None of us can say that this would never happen to us. It is happening in our community; it has happened in our schools. As parents, the greatest gift you can give your children is to be educated yourself, and to ensure they get the education they need. Let’s make a call to action for our schools, our shuls, our camp movements, for any organisational institution where children are potentially at risk. Let’s ensure that institutions have vetted every single member of staff, that there’s education and policies in place, and that reporting happens.”

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