The suicide of a convicted sexual offender has put the spotlight on the National Register for Sex Offenders as the Mitchell’s Plain resident was still found to have been working with children recently.
Brain Shofer, 58, who had been teaching at Lourier Primary School in Retreat up until last term, made headlines when he was arrested for rape at his London Village home in Mitchell’s Plain last week.
He was nicknamed the ‘Gumtree paedophile’ because he recently placed adverts on the site to tutor school children – despite being a convicted sexual offender.
Shofer was held at Lentegeur police station holding cells and appeared in the Mitchell’s Plain Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday July 27 on the charge but was found dead in his cell on Friday July 29.
Captain FC Van Wyk, provincial police spokesperson, confirmed that a death occurred in the police holding cells at Lentegeur police station.
Eric Ntabazalila, the National Prosecuting Authority’s provincial spokesman, that Schofer faced a rape charge for boys aged between 12 and 18 years old. He added that Shofer was to face more charges.
Robbie Raburabu, acting national spokesperson for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), said the suspect was remanded to the police cells because there was further investigations still to be carried out on the case.
It was found that Shofer had been appointed as a teacher at Lourier Primary School by the school governing body.
When Southern Mail asked the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) who employed Shofer, spokesperson Millicent Merton confirmed that he was employed by the Lourier Primary School Governing Body from April to June.
“SGBs are responsible for checking the backgrounds of SGB employees, at least whether they are registered with the South African Council of Educators (SACE).
“The WCED will assist schools, as required, if they need this assistance,” said Ms Merton.
The SGB chairperson Bazil Williams as well as Lourier Primary School principal Rashida Jardien declined to answer any of Southern Mail’s questions regarding Shofer and referred all questions to the WCED.
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“We are not at liberty to speak about the issue at the moment,” said Ms Jardien.
Asked if the education department has any means of finding out if a teacher has ever been convicted of a sexual offence, Ms Millicent said the department records details of teachers found guilty of sexual abuse on Persal, the government’s employee records system.
“We check this record before employing any teacher. The department will not employ any teachers found guilty of sexual abuse. The WCED also reports all cases to the SACE,” she said.
She adds that the council then removes teachers found guilty of sexual abuse from the national register of professional teachers. Teachers have to have SACE registration to be able to work as a teacher.
An agency, MIE, that specialises in background checks does this for the WCED and has direct access to police and court records.
“The service is probably more reliable than the sex offenders register because it works with original databases and does not rely on a third party to copy the data across. We also check Persal to see if a potential employee who worked previously for government was ever convicted of an offence, including sexual offences and lastly we check whether teachers are registered with SACE.
“The Western Cape Education Department views any allegation of sexual abuse in an extremely serious light and gives top priority to investigating these cases,” said Ms Merton.
Ms Merton said counsellors and social workers were provided to work with the school and pupils.
The mother of two children who attends Lourier Primary School, in Retreat, was shocked to learn that Shofer was employed at their school.
The woman, who did not want to be named, said her son interacted with Mr Shofer twice.
“My son told me that he approached group of boys and talked to them about soccer. The other time my son only saw him briefly and he thought he was a very nice man,” said the mother.
“I was in disbelief when I heard the news because he (Shofer) had access to so many children. I don’t understand how a known sexual offender had access to vulnerable children,” she said.
After learning Mr Shofer had committed suicide, the mother got upset.
“Now he won’t pay for his crimes and that is unfair but at least the world is rid of one more pervert,” she said.
The Plainsman questioned the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development about why was Shofer was not placed on the National Child Abuse Register
NAME said when a person is convicted of a sexual offence against a child or a mentally disabled person, a judge or the magistrate must make an order directing that the details of an offender be included in the National Register for Sex Offenders.
“It does not matter whether the conviction was made on or before the commencement of the Act. The National Register for Sex Offenders is kept in a confidential manner but can be accessible in a prescribed format by any person who falls within the following categories: Employers, a Relevant Authority in terms of Section 48(1), an employee in respect of her own particulars, a person applying for a licence or approval to manage or operate any entity -Section 47(2), a person applying to become a foster parent -Section 48 (2) and any person applying in respect of his or her own particulars,” he said.
According to Mr Shofer’s Facebook account, he attended Progress College and SACS High School. He has three Facebook profiles with few posts since 2013.
One of his first posts on June 4 in 2013 read: “I am looking for young or old friends as I am lonely and would like to forge strong and lasting friendships”.
Doctor Marcel Londt, senior lecturer at the University of the Western Cape in the Department of Social Work, said paedophilia is a complex problem with many nuances.
“It is simply not a between the legs problem, also between the ears problem. It is not considered a mental disorder as such, but many symptoms of mental challenges may be present, for instance, personaility challenges, mood distrubances, depression, impulsivity,” said Dr Londt.
She said we need to shift the focus to the many victims that will be impacted by his death and the way he died.
“It is always sad when the challenges cannot be overcome, for whatever reason. Shofer has not experienced good outcomes with his prolonged periods of rehabilitation and/or incarceration,” she said.
Dr Londt said sex offenders can be treated if their risk profile is assessed. She added that the one size fits all approach is an unmitigated disaster and does not produce positive outcomes.
Dr Londt said paedophiles’ emotional incongruence and the devious behaviour make children a safe option. But, when their pathways are stopped, they may revert to families and individuals who are highly vulnerable.
“What we do know is that the lazy pedophile may operate outside the usual victim range and victim characterstics and present as opportunistic and predatory when their normal access is frustrated,” she said.
Dr Londt said victims are often left with self loathing, guilt, despair and challenges in relationships, engaging with their worlds.
“We need to strengthen the resolve of all our children, decrease their vulnerability that makes them susceptible to pedophiles. We need to give children the right tools to feel confident about themselves, their worlds and their support systems.
“This will reduce the power that the paedophile can exact on vulnerable children,” she said.
Carmen de Vos, a senior social worker at the Parent Centre, said parents try to protect their children at all cost, and discussing sexual abuse is not something they would prefer to do.
“Sexual abuse is a reality. Parents need to talk about good and bad touches. Talk to the child about what he or she should allow.
“Children need to know that they can tell you anything and you will not dismiss it, blame them or get angry. Listen to them. Being open to discussing sexuality is an excellent base to prevent sexual abuse,” she said.
Ms De Vos said parents should allow children to reject hugs and kisses if they do not feel comfortable. In this way they will learn that they do not need to allow the abuser to touch them.
Ward 79 councillor, Solomon Philander, who is a member of the Homeless Agency Committee, said as a sex offender Shofers’ name should have appeared on the National Register for Sex Offenders.
“Although he served his sentence the first time he was smarter to work in a youth centre and re-offended and served jail time again,” said Mr Philander, adding that Shofer had again been offering maths classes.
Mr Philander said parents should put all safety measures in place and check references before they allow any person to assist or take care of your child without parental supervision.
Mr Philander appealed to all Early Childhood Development Centres, schools, or any employer that works with children to please ensure all staff is checked against the National Register for sex offenders before employed.
Sihle Ngobese, spokesperson for for Albert Fritz, MEC for Social Development, said before Shofer killed himself that they had formally requested the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (CoJCD) and the courts, to place him on the National Child Abuse Register.
The register is administered by the CoJCD.
Mr Ngobese said the department was offering counselling to any children and parents who may have been exposed to Shofer.
“Regardless of whether he tried anything, children and parents now finding out about the nature of his criminal sexual offences, may be traumatised by virtue of what “could have happened,” he said.
The public can contact the department by visiting any local or regional DSD office closest to them, or by contacting the DSD hotline on 0800 220 250.
The Plainsman contacted the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development about why was Mr Shofer was not placed on the National Child Abuse Register and details about access to the list, on Friday July 29, but the department failed to respond at the time of print.