The Inspirer Investigation piece.
By Samuel Baker BYANSI.
Female students at APEKA Kabarondo allege sexual harassment by teachers which they say could affect their academic performance and are urging school administration and government authorities to probe the matter.
The students who refused to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, claim that they were sexually abused by their own teachers.
Lynne, not real name, is 18 schooling at APEKA Kabarondo in senior six; she wept bitterly when recounting a sexual assault that has happened since 2016 when she joined the school and she accuses the head teacher known as Nkurunziza Gilbert for the assault. “I tried to resist his actions but as my head teacher I had no choice and way of resistance. He promised to help me in my studies and support me even financially.”
Lynne said that as soon as she entered the school compound for the first term in 2016 the head teacher called her to his office where he assaulted her for the first time. “When I got to his office he asked about my previous school and background, when I told him my story and family issues, he pretended to be sorry for me and pulled me close to his chest, and in that process he touched my breasts, started romancing me and told me that I was beautiful.” Lynne said, adding that she was scared but the head teacher promised to take care of her welfare in and out the school which also contributed much to her silence.
Lynne argues that this went on up to even now and was once forced by the head teacher to give him a hand job at his home where he used to stay in Kabarondo before shifting to Kayonza.
But even as far as 2014, cases like hers were allegedly happening at the same school, take the story of this former student who we shall call Joy for her safety by then was in senior five is now 23 but was 19 by then. “He called me to his office and appreciated my behavior and conduct at school, it was like a student and a teacher conversation but after several meetings once he invited me to his home in Kabarondo. On arriving he began sexual conversation, came close to me and removed my browse and began stroking my breasts. By that time I was even still a virgin I didn’t even understand what was going on,” Joy narrated.
“That’s when I realized that I was called into this room to be raped. I stated shouting and he was like cool down, cool down nothing bad will happen after he promised to take care of me and that was trying to help me,” Joy added.
The outcome of this was that Joy changed schools the following term. They decided to suffer silently to finish their studies and according to Lynne she managed to pass up to senior six despite poor performance and financial issues. “I was scared I thought that if I complained I would be chased out of the school and I knew the financial problems at our home so I had to tolerate the harassment for me to make it out,” Lynne said.
Both Lynne and Joy did not ever report their cases anywhere for fear that they would be blacklisted by the same head teacher Nkurunziza.
Besides the head teacher, Tuyizere Innocent who is also a teacher at the same school is accused by three victims whom it is alleged that he abused them sexually. We shall refer them to as Tina, Jane and Tracy (not real names), the three are currently students at the institution all in their senior six class.
In a letter of which we have a copy signed by the head teacher of APEKA Kabarondo this October 2018, demands explanations from Tuyizere Innocent on sexual harassment cases which he was allegedly accused of, and he also responded denying the allegations in a letter dated 12th October 2018.
Tina who is aged 19 schooling at the same school in senior six constructions alleged that Tuyizere requested openly for a love relationship with her but upon her denial started tormenting her.
“He used to communicate to me as normal but when I was at home in holidays he called me and openly told me that he loved me, I refused and even changed my number but when I came back to school he disturbed me so much to the extent of making me uncomfortable while at school” she said.
Her story sounds similar to that of Jane age 18 who also was called by the same teacher during holidays and he requested to meet her and she refused but later while at school the sexual harassment increased. “When I came back to school he used to call me anywhere when he was alone on several occasions and start touching me everywhere on my body, I tried to prohibit him but failed because he used to insist that we were to discuss my academic issues.” Jane said.
Aged 18, Tracy’s story is a bit different as the same teacher who she had known even way back before joining the school as a family friend, with the intend to abuse her sexually helped her guardians to find a position for her in APEKA later did she know he was laying his trap. “He was a family friend, while changing schools he helped my guardians to get me into the school he worked for where I am schooling now. He started treating me in a sensitive way but I didn’t mind because I didn’t expect much,” Tracy said.
One day while at home during holidays she got a surprise call, the teacher allegedly asked her for a long term relationship and promised to be good and protective in and out the school. She refused the favors and the tough situation came on back to school. “He called me and told me how much he loved me. To me I felt it not good and even looking at my age and his, so I had to say no. The situation turned worse when I came back to school, as me found in different mistakes, performing not good in his subject and even hash to me” she said.
The accused both Nkurunziza and Tuyizere who have worked for the school for 10 and 7 years respectively, according to some members of community and the district education officer have never been accused of such cases before and they both denied the allegations.
Kayonza district education officer Munyensanga Philibert said that he has never received such a complaint since he started working in the office, adding that Mr. Nkurunziza was one of the exemplary head teachers. However he said that they were going to set out their own investigations and counseling, if found some of them guilty they would be punished according to the law.
The head teacher Nkurunziza, denied the accusations saying that students can be used by someone else with intentions to tarnish his name or the school’s name. “Students can become a microphone of any one with different negative interest be it on me or on the school” said Nkurunziza, he also added that whoever had critical evidences could address the issue to the Rwanda Investigations Bureau for the laws to take action.
Whereas according to Tuyizere Innocent he used to communicate, care the victims but on academic issues be it when they are home or at school. “I agree I used to talk to them while they are here at school or call them when they are at home but our topic was always academic, I don’t take that as sexual harassment” said Tuyizere. He also denied requesting for love from any student and also claimed that these are allegations set to tarnish his name.
Many institutions be it primary, secondary and universities are dotted with such cases, a few have been reported to police but most cases are never reported. The police according to its spokesperson CP Kabera John Bosco speaking out is part of the solution; “the victims in such cases have to collaborate with the investigations bureau, the police and always speak out for us to put an end to it and we advise schools to set sexual harassment policies for prevention methods.”
According to Ingabire Marie Immaculée, the Transparency International Rwanda chairperson there is another theory that it is not just teachers but some older students in A levels and universities who perpetuate the vice. “The first cause are teachers that lack morals, and second are these girls of these days too, they can lie when they perform badly that they were sexually harassed or even due to their dress codes with different reasons become temptations to their teachers,” Ingabire said, adding that if someone is accused even if there are no critical evidence, he should be punished at a school level, and in case of serious evidence on ground he should face justice.
Despite the laws in place to prevent sexual harassment, according to research by Transparency International Rwanda sexual harassment in schools and higher institutions of learning is increasing now recorded at 65.30% .
This reporter made attempts to meet the director of the accused school Uwitonze Ildephonse for comment on these allegations, only for him to deny us access to information, issued threats and destroyed some of the journalistic equipment.
According to Ingabire one of the major problems that has made it difficult to put an end to sexual harassment in schools are principals who cover up students’ allegations against their staff to protect their reputation and out of fear of losing personnel.
“Some of the principals just want to fix the cases, they take matters into their hands without necessarily taking it to a higher level,” she said.
Transparency International Rwanda calls on the government to prohibit sex between students and their teachers outright. And advices all principals in schools to investigate all sexual assault allegations, and refer cases to RIB, police and prosecutors.
“The government wants girls to succeed in education,” Ingabire says, “but it needs to end the culture of silence around abuse by teachers, encourage girls to speak out, and send an unequivocal message to all education staff that it will not tolerate sexual violence against students.”.
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