Religious school sex scandal was concealed

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
THE NETHERLANDS. Dutch religious communities are reviewing the running of their schools after the system, which claims a higher moral standing than its secular counterpart, was rocked by a sex abuse scandal.

It emerged last week that a Reformed Protestant school in Amersfoort, central Holland, had concealed the abuse of at least 18 children from parents and the authorities for several years in order to give the perpetrator a chance to reform.

The 2,300-pupil Guido de Bres secondary school was exposed after a former pupil published an article about sexual abuse there. A 45-year-old geography teacher, identified only as BK, allegedly abused male pupils for 16 years until he was dismissed in 1993. The teacher is now receiving psychiatric treatment.

Gert Middelkoop, the school's headteacher, who has now been suspended pending an inquiry,told a Dutch newspaper that the school had first been notified of the abuse by a parent in 1990.

The school viewed the teacher's behaviour - showing pornographic films to pupils, masturbating in front of them and encouraging them to masturbate - as improper, but it believed it did not signify real abuse, Middelkoop said. It has since emerged that the teacher allegedly had oral sex with one or more pupils at that time.

Mr Middelkoop said that he had not informed parents as the children themselves had asked him not to. The school decided against prosecuting the teacher as the man would most likely have been judged to be not responsible for his actions.

When the school confronted the teacher in 1990 it found that he had serious psychological problems, but decided to keep him on. "He pledged to take therapy. We supported him in the hope that he could get back on the rails, " Mr Middelkoop said.

The man was allowed to continue to give lessons although he was relieved of other duties, such as volleyball coaching. However, three years later it emerged the teacher had abused more pupils, this time raping at least one boy.

A team of 10 detectives is investigating the case and an independent inquiry into the school is being set up. The chairman and secretary of the school's board were said to have resigned this week.

Tineke Netelenbos, an education minister, said she was considering amending legislation compelling schools and inspectors to report sexual abuse to the public prosecutor's office. A special helpline for teachers, parents and pupils was launched last year to deal with problems at schools. Three-quarters of Dutch schools now have a complaints committee and will shortly receive instructions on how to deal with incidents at school, Netelenbos said. The minister rejected claims that sexual abuse at schools was on the increase, following a spate of recent incidents.

"People are now willing to talk about it more. At 99.9 per cent of our schools nothing is amiss," she said. Last year, inspectors received almost 100 complaints about sexual intimidation.

However, the case has raised questions about the closed nature of the Reformed Protestant community and its emphasis on forgiveness in its teaching.

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