Consent in the classroom: The reason 23 pupils in Valhalla reported their sex pest teacher
Earlier this month News24 reported that a teacher allegedly sexually assaulted 23 pupils at Valhalla Primary School in Pretoria last year but learners only opened up about this after police officers visited their school in January to teach them about sexual assault.
When we talk about sex education, we should also be mentioning consent. (iStock)

A quick scan of the news and you'll find article after article about recent child sexual assault cases. And we're not talking about R Kelly cases that have been going on for years. No, no, it's a lot closer to home. It's in and around the neighbourhood, at family functions, and schools.

"Former Parktown Boys' High assistant coach gets 23 years in jail"

"Bryanston High School coach guilty of sexual harassment, dismissed immediately"

"Teacher arrested for allegedly sexually abusing pupils at Valhalla Primary School"

Last month, News24 reported that a teacher allegedly sexually assaulted 23 pupils at Valhalla Primary School in Pretoria. The assault happened in June last year, but was only reported recently. Why, you may ask? Because on 23 January members of the Tshwane Metro Police Department visited the school to teach learners about sexual abuse. The learners then confided in the officers that they had been inappropriately touched by one of their teachers.

Also read: WATCH: Just a reminder from Pantosaurus that what’s in your pants, belongs only to you

So when Chicago Sun Times reported this month that State Rep in Illinois, Ann Williams, is proposing a bill to ensure schools must be required to teach consent as part of sex education, our first response was, “Finally,” followed shortly by concern for the fact that schools hadn’t been teaching consent all along!


Maybe we’re so outraged because of movements such as #MeToo and Times Up, maybe it’s because we’re more sexually diverse, ultra-socially conscious and hypersensitive than ever before. Regardless, consent is something that should have been and needs to be taught at every level of a child’s education so that they grow up knowing they have the right to their own bodily autonomy and anyone who comes along should respect that.

What is consent? 

Consent, by definition, has to do with you giving “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” This has much to do with teaching kids that they have the right to say yes or no to something, and their decision is final and should be respected. The Chicago Sun Times elaborates on how Williams proposes consent may be taught in the classroom, and quotes from the Bill the kinds of the things the curriculum may include:

  • Consent is a freely given agreement to sexual activity;

  • Consent to one sexual activity does not constitute consent to another;

  • Neither a lack of verbal or physical resistance, nor a person’s manner of dress means consent; and

  • A person cannot consent if they can’t understand the nature of the activity due to drugs or alcohol. 

The bill has yet to be brought into effect but has garnered several new co-sponsors. But while we remain hopeful, The Chicago Times also reports that although public k-12 schools are to follow the state’s curriculum when teaching sex education, sex education doesn’t actually have to be taught as part of the syllabus in Illinois. And of the 24 states that do teach sex education in the US, only eight require a discussion about consent.

Also read: Understanding rape culture and teaching your children about it

Is consent part of the South African curriculum? 

In SA, sex education is written into the CAPS curriculum for Life Orientation which, according to The Department of Basic Education, includes 6 topics to be covered from Grades 10 to 12:

(1) Development of the self in society,

(2) Social and environmental responsibility,

(3) Democracy and human rights,

(4) Careers and career choices,

(5) Study skills and

(6) Physical education.  

Under the first section, development of the self in society, “sexual behaviour” needs to be discussed, as well as power relations, sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, rape and STIs. And while there is no specific mention of the word "consent", the curriculum does include teaching: 

“Values such as respect for self and others, abstinence, self-control, right to privacy, right to protect oneself, right to say ‘No’ and taking responsibility for own actions...” 

The referenced curriculum is specific for Grades 10 to 12, and covers sex education, albeit in brief, throughout. Consent should be taught in public schools in South Africa, but we propose, as early as primary school. 

Also read: OPINION: We aren’t doing enough to protect our boys from sexual assault

If the Valhalla Primary School incident taught us anything it's that, firstly, these things are in fact happening, and in schools no less; and secondly, that learners are unaware of what constitutes sexual assault and abuse to begin with, so they may not even be aware that it was something they could and should report.

It is for this reason that we need to teach kids about consent, and schools need to take responsibility for that.

In a brilliant piece exposing the 'Parktown Boys way', Robyn Wolfson Vorster explains that it's not only about the sex pest teachers, but the schools in which they operate. She warns that schools need to be more aware of the cultures they're creating and make sure they rid themselves of all that is toxic.

"If Parktown Boys and the other boy’s schools like it don’t make the changes required," she warns, "more predators like Rex will thrive, and the boys produced by the system will not become proud old boys, but rather, broken men."

Chat back:

Teachers, do you teach consent at your school? How do you go about introducing the concept to kids? Moms and dads, have you spoken to your kids about consent? Tell us and we may share it with our readers?

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