This past two weeks the media were abuzz with reports of Fiona Viotti, the Bishops Diocesan College water polo coach, who resigned last week amid allegations of a sexual affair with a matric pupil. It was also reported that school principal Guy Pearson said that several boys "have been affected over a number of years".
Interestingly enough, when speaking to a male friend of mine about the idea of a school boy having an affair with a female teacher, his view was an enthusiastic “attaboy!” To me, that’s in strong contrast with what would have been the view if a matric school girl allegedly had an affair with a male teacher - that instead, the girl is a victim of unacceptable behaviour, and that the teacher is a predator who used his position and relationship in an inappropriate manner.
To my mind this highlights the difference in perspective society seems to have when it comes to sexually inappropriate behaviour towards women and children. Have you ever paused to considered that this is not bound by gender or age, and that men are exposed and left vulnerable to abuse and the effects thereof too?
In the course of my experience as Family Law attorney, I’m constantly reminded that the Children’s Act does not distinguish between male and female children. In fact, it specifically provides therefor that children (thus any person younger than 18) must be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation, discrimination, exploitation and any other physical, emotional or moral harm or hazards. I find that this obviously includes protection against the behaviour alleged in the above-mentioned Bishops matter.
Were the child younger than 16 years old, criminal prosecution would follow from the actions as well.
When it’s a man of 18 years old and older that is placed in this position, the remedies he can take is to lay a criminal charge, obtain an interdict in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Harassment Act, obtain an interdict in accordance with the provisions of the Domestic Violence Act (if applicable), lay a complaint of sexual harassment and/or institute civil action for damages suffered.
This is a necessary reminder and encouragement to men and boys to speak out about inappropriate behaviour against them without fear of being perceived as weak, and to utilise the law to protect them from any form of abuse.