‘Everything happens in school toilets’, and kids are terrified
Toilets are out of sight of teachers, giving free rein to bullies in SA schools
Pupils in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) have described the daily fear they experience when they have to use their school toilets.
“Everything happens in the toilets,” said a Grade 10 boy at the no-fee school. “Like when you walk in, they close you in and mug you and do whatever they want. It is worse when they have a gun.”
His and other pupils' experiences at an unidentified school in the KwaMashu area were described in a South African Journal of Education study looking at the risk of bullying they faced.
Researchers Ndumiso Daluxolo Ngidi and Relebohile Moletsane, from the University of KZN, found that pupils feared muggings, sexual violence and physical assault in the toilets.
The fact that the toilets were out of sight of teachers left the victims “at the mercy of the bullies and perpetrators of violence”, they said.
“Sometimes school is fun, but it is mostly dangerous,” a Grade 9 girl reported. “As I was washing my face in the toilet a boy came in and tried to bully me.”
She escaped after a cleaner came in and told the boy to leave, but others were not so lucky.
One boy said he had repeatedly been abused by bullies in the toilet. “They always outnumber you and they beat you up,” he said. “I have never even tried to fight back; I will never try.”
While bullies often worked in groups around the toilet, some respondents said individual bullies, who were either older or stronger than them, harassed them for sexual favours.
A Grade 8 girl said: “A girl came to me and harassed me and wanted to force me to love her, but I told her that I don’t do girls.”
Another girl in Grade 10 recounted when “guys came from behind me and choked me. One of them put a hand on my breast.” One of the boys, she said, was in her class.
Many of the study participants reported that alcohol, cannabis and other drugs were dealt at the toilets, and told of dire consequences for anyone who tried to tell teachers or the principal.
“It is not easy to scream or shout for help because they scare you with something [a weapon] and toilets are far, and nobody will hear you,” one respondent said.
Many victims said the torment did not stop at the toilet door. They also faced bullies as they walked to and from school, they said.
“I find school boring,” one of the girls said. “Not that I hate it, but because all these things hurt me. These people are feared even by teachers, so we are not safe.”
The study’s authors said school toilets needed to be made safer, which could involve moving them to a location where teachers could monitor them more effectively.