Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Oprah Winfrey Academy Arrest And Shakeup

I've been watching the way reporters discuss what's happening at Oprah's academy and it has been presented as a taint against her.

A former employee of Oprah Winfrey's school for disadvantaged girls in South Africa has been arrested on charges of abuse and sexual assault, police said Friday.

A police spokesman, Supt. Lungelo Dlamini, said the 27-year-old woman, a former dormitory matron at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, was arrested on Thursday by the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offenses Unit.

I don't see this as a taint at all unless it's revealed that Oprah first tried to suppress the reports of alleged criminal behavior or if the systemic problems which contributed to this abuse aren't fixed. Unfortunately, many people will exploit those under their control if they believe they can get away with it and these people are counting on institutions wanting to protect their reputation more than they want to protect their students.

The biggest initial mistake Oprah made when planning for the girls safety was to get preoccupied with stranger danger at the expense of the danger from people in positions of trust.

Since abuse often is used as a form of control, those who don't know healthy and respectful ways to control children, when control is really needed, may turn to abusive tactics. Obey completely or else. That means that effective systematic prevention requires more than careful screening of educators and staff, it requires training.

This training needs to permeate the system. Personnel need to have an understanding of boundaries so they clearly understand what is abusive and what is not. Personnel need to have an understanding of what to do when a student makes a disclosure -- either directly or indirectly -- so that the environment is safe for students and employees. Those who aren't specially trained in these types of investigations shouldn't be allowed to do the investigations and should have someone who is trained who will be contacted when necessary.

From an AP story:

Winfrey said officials at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls hid facts and told students to "put on happy faces" and not complain to her. Though she said she was not responsible for hiring at the school, she said the screening process was inadequate and "the buck always stops with me."

This response by school officials unfortunately is far too common. But it sounds like the problem was in more than the screening process. Too many school systems have taught administrators that they need to respond to abuse in just this way.

Real safety needs to be more important than the external perception of safety which applies also to those outside the school. For the external response to be reasonable, there needs to be a way for those outside school systems to have faith that the school system is dealing with problems effectively.

From CNN:

Fifteen girls at Oprah Winfrey's South African leadership academy blew open the abuse scandal that the talk show host says shook her to her very core.

Oprah Winfrey tells a Monday news conference how she found out about abuse charges and what she did. Winfrey, on Monday, praised the teens who chose to approach the school's CEO in an environment that the millionaire described as fearful and encouraging silence. "They represent, those 15 girls, the new generation of youth in South Africa who fearlessly take back their voices to speak up about their concern for their fellow classmates," she said, speaking to a news conference in Johannesburg by satellite hookup from Chicago.

I also applaud the girls who refused to be shut up when they met with resistance and denial. This is also where Oprah may have made a difference since the girls may have had reason to believe that Oprah wouldn't have the same dismissive attitude about allegations of abuse.

My hope is that the changes made at this academy will be positive and systematic enough that the lessons learned with this situation can be applied elsewhere.

Watch the full video of Oprah's statement or read the transcript.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:33 AM   0 comments links to this post


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