UNFIT to LEAD?…Criminal innocence, professional guilt, policy matter

Esther A. Armah

Head teachers in Ghana’s schools.  They carry particular power and leadership in schools. Already, this year we have had 3 head teachers engaged in and accused ofsexual acts with their students. The accusations, their implications are much more than sensationalist fodder for elements of our media. They reveal a need for an educational reckoning with head teachers.

With head teachers there is a particular power that requires careful, clear action. A head teacher found guilty of sexually abusing their students must face the harshest of consequences. That is because their leadership dictates a practice by other teaches and their transgressions impact entire cultures within that school.

The two most recent cases are Battor Senior High School head teacher Lawrence Korley and Human Development Academy head teacher Eric Lanyo Macs. The former is a high school the latter is a basic school; that means the latter’s students are 11 to 15 years old.

Mr Korley faces serial sexual abuse and harassment allegations going back over several years. In 2011, he was accused of rape. The alleged victim left the country before giving evidence. There were reports that GES had failed to follow proper procedure. The technical irregularities and lack of victim meant the head teacher was reinstated in his position. He would go on to become Battor High School’s Head Teacher where one high school student has explicit recording of a head teacher masturbating on the phone to a high school students. The Battor High School audio recording hit the media. That was quickly followed by a number of stories detailing serial allegations of sexual abuse, harassment and ‘sex’ with students.

Mr. Eric Lanyo Macs has been sacked by the owners of the school following serial allegations of sexual abuse of his students. The student’s ages make it a criminal investigation with a possibility of criminal prosecution and imprisonment.

In January, we had head teacher Robert Seppey of  Edumanu D/A Basic School caught on a sex tape with a former student on a stool on all fours. One media house would report the police investigation result that this was consensual sex.

In Ghana, we conflate consent  and professional misconduct . Are we really suggesting that head teachers having serial sexual engagements with their students can be considered professionally acceptable conduct? Too often we attack the issue solely from the point of what is legally allowable – particularly in senior high schools – as opposed to the additional lens of what is professionally unacceptable.

This is why policy matters. This is why structure for schools safely reporting sexual abuse allegations matters even more.

Sexual violence within the sanctity of the classroom by head teachers is particularly egregious. Head  teachers do so much more than teach; they lead. They build the foundation of the school with their philosophy, approach, action and behaviour. When that is aligned with sexual abuse it is a particular violation.  It means students are hemmed in with no avenues to safely report sexual violence in their schools.  It also handicaps teachers in terms of actively supporting students who may report sexual abuse allegations.

Where do you go when it is the leader of your organization perpetrating  the violence? What is your point of report or investigation if it is the person who establishes the culture that is responsible for abusing it in order to fulfill their own deviant sexual desires?

What is clear from these latest scandals involving head teachers is, the lack of active policy and process is turning many more students into victims. Right now, Ghana has a committed and dynamic Minister of Education who has demonstrated a passionate commitment to investigating such allegations of abuse. That matters. What is required is more than individual passion. We need process to transform this traumatized chaos into organized thorough investigation.

At the moment process looks like this: multiple allegations made by multiple students; no real avenue or safe reporting structure; someone leaks or goes to the media because there is no action in the school; the publicity caused by the mediaignites some kind of investigation. This unspoken but practiced informal policy to trigger an investigation into sexual abuse within schools by head teachers is problematic. It is a completely unworkable policy.  It means students endure abuse for a long period of time before they seek counsel and then call for help. It means the often poor reporting that some media houses engage in risks further traumatizing or stigmatizing the student rather than targeting the alleged abuser creating formal space for thorough investigation.

What do we need?

Teachers must be subject to a nationwide standardized training regarding their professional conduct and expectations regarding how sexual abuse allegations against head teachers must be dealt with. Head teachers must be faced with more stringent sanctions if found guilty of sexual abuse due to their leadership positions.

The Minister of Education’s individual action must be matched by institutional change. He has also been reckless in his language. At a gathering of leading educators, he suggested that he would take a gun to anyone who harmed his daughter. Understandable as a father, problematic as a Minister. This requires more than a reimagining of individual Ministry leadership. Structural change within the Ghana Education Service is the call in order that girls are not consistently and continually left to figure out whom to report, how to do that, who will believe them and how long before any real action can be taken.

In Ghana, our default position when students allege abuse against head teachers is to dismiss them as liars or to demand evidence. If they use the modern tools of technology to record such evidence – they are potentially subject to being accused of entrapment and a stern warning that recording someone without their permission or knowledge is illegal.

So what exactly do we as a society want girl students to do who have the audacity to insist on a sexual violence free education?

Are we ready to change the cultures in our classrooms?

CASA (Coalition Against Sexual Abuse) is an organization working to change such perceptions through activism, campaign creation, work with stakeholders and policy makers. In March it launched a year long campaign, ‘STOP SEX ABUSE in SCHOOLS!’ Its aim is to raise nationwide awareness of the issue; bring together the stakeholders for engaged discussion and call for policy change to strengthen sanction and formalize safe reporting structures.

If some head teachers’ leadership serially abuses the vulnerable in spaces of learning, how can we justify and defend our commitment to nation building?

Time for fresh policy to become routine, rigorous practice. Time to recognize that societal lines may not be considered crossed because we call sexual engagements between head teachers and students consent due to age. However, we must recognize such sexual engagements as a flagrant abuse of power and authority. That recognition should be matched with uncompromising consequences.

The challenge we have? Unlearning.

We need to unlearn the instinct of defending and protecting the Oga of educational institutions at all costs; no matter the consequence of their transgression. Ghana is a society where we have normalized the sexual abuse of girls. As a society we must unlearn such normalization in order to realize the promise of real progress. We are unaware of the legacy of this untreated trauma on the lives of young girls being abused and the witnessing of that abuse by young boys regarding masculinity, power and access to girls/women’s bodies.

Are we willing to unlearn what harms the vulnerable and empowers the abusive?

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Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) campaign STOP SEX ABUSE in SCHOOLS! is in partnership with ‘Let’s Talk Consent, ‘OdodowGH’ and EAA Media Productions. CASA seeks to engage additional organizations for partnership and participation. The hash tags across social media for this campaign are:- #SilenceBreakersGH and #TimesUpGH. For more info contact casaforjustice@gmail.com.

The Coalition Against Sexual Abuse (CASA) is an action and advocacy group of concerned citizens of Ghana committed to ending sexual abuse, sexual violence and sexual harassment in the country. CASA’s focus is impactful campaigns, citizen engagement, media and policy in this work. CASA works to educate Ghanaians about sexual abuse; to advocate for victims; to push for sensible legislation and enforcement against perpetrators; to engage the media in reform, language and their power regarding sexual abuse. CASA collaborates with other groups and individuals committed to ending sexual abuse.

CASA members:-

Eugenia Tachie-Menson
Richard Anim
Sara Asafu-Adjaye
Marcia Ashong
Nana Awere Damoah
Nana Akwasi Awuah
Mawuli Dake
Farida Bedwei
Nana Yaa Ofori Atta
Ama Opoku Agyeman
Elsie Dickson
Amazing Grace Danso
Yemisi Parker-Osei
Esther Armah
Elizabeth Olympio
Prof. Eric Wilson
Nana Ama Adom-Boakye
Abla Dzifa Gomashie
Kathleen Addy
The Ark Foundation
SCORP-FGMSA (Standing Committee On Human Rights and Peace – Federation of Ghana Medical Students)                                                                                          PepperDem Ministries

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Follow CASA on Facebook:- https://m.facebook.com/GHCASA/

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