Ministry acts over sex abuse

Jane Marshall

France. After a series of sex abuse cases involving teachers the French education ministry has taken urgent steps to alert schools and teachers to the problem.

A five-page circular addressed to national, regional and local officials says: "Staff, who are in permanent contact with children, have an obligation to be vigilant."

The action follows a series of cases in which teachers have been accused of abusing children in their care. The circular accepts tacitly that in many instances the education authorities have taken no action against offending teachers other than to transfer them to different schools. Parents of abused children have been discouraged from taking guilty teachers to court.

It reminds officials and staff that failure to pass on knowledge of the ill-treatment of children to the relevant legal or administrative authorities is an offence under French law.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that Jacky Kaisersmertz, a retired teacher living in a small town in east central France, had admitted systematically sexually abusing scores of pupils over more than 30 years. His activities were uncovered after one of his former victims killed himself.

After the suicide, the wall of silence surrounding Kaisersmertz's activities began to collapse. About 60 former pupils have now filed charges against him. Yet he was able to abuse children for decades without anything being said.

The authorities acknowledge that feelings of guilt and shame inhibit many children from coming forward to report their experiences. Others fear that their word would not be accepted against that of a senior and respected figure in the local community.

But in previous cases the education system has shown itself indulgent to teachers who abuse children. In one case a music teacher who had indecently assaulted girls aged between 11 and 15 was given a suspended prison sentence of four months by the courts, but only reprimanded and suspended by the education authorities. He was later transferred to a nursery school.

In another instance a head teacher discovered his son and daughter had been raped by a neighbour, also a teacher. Although the offender confessed, the authorities promised only that he would be transferred. The head and his family took the affair to court and the teacher was eventually given a long prison sentence.

But the head found himself ostracised and was made to feel that he was the guilty party.

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Jane Marshall

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