Child Abuse

1.1. A traumatic event is a sudden and unexpected occurrence that causes intense fear and may involve a threat of physical harm or actual physical harm. A traumatic experience may have a profound effect on the physical health, mental health, and development of the student. Although it is not always easy to distinguish between the terms “stress” crises and “trauma”, it is useful for the educators in South African public schools to understand these terms as being on “a continuum from less severe to extreme severe” (Lewis 1999: 5).

Traumatic experience may cause ongoing feelings of concern for Tina’s own safety and the safety of others. She may become preoccupied with thoughts about her actions during the event of sexual abuse by her step-brother, often times experiencing guilt or shame over what she did or did not do at the time. She might engage in constant retelling of the traumatic event, or may describe being overwhelmed by her feelings of fear or sadness.

In most cases, learners in Tina’s situation show signs of distress through somatic complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, and pains. These pupils may have a change in behavior, such as increase irritability, aggression, and anger. Their behaviors may be inconsistent. These learners may show a change in school performance and have impaired attention and concentration and more school absences.

A traumatic event can seriously interrupt the school routine and the processes of teaching and learning. There are usually high levels of emotional upset, potential for disruptive behavior or loss of learners’ attendance unless efforts are made to reach out to learners and staff with additional information and services. Learners traumatized by exposure to family violence such as Tina have been shown to have lower grade point averages, more negative remarks in their cumulative records, and more reported absences from school than other learners. They may have increased difficulties concentrating and learning...