Friday, November 2, 2007

Arrest made in Oprah school abuse case

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African police have arrested a former dormitory employee at Oprah Winfrey's leadership academy for girls on charges of abuse, including indecent acts.

At least seven alleged victims have submitted statements about the woman, police said.

"A former dormitory employee (27) has been arrested yesterday by the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit on several charges of abuse," a statement from police spokesman Superintendent Lungelo Dlamini read.

"Several charges including alleged assault, indecent assault, crimen injuria and soliciting girls under age to perform indecent acts are being investigated against her. At least seven victims have already submitted statements."

The suspect is being held by police and is expected to appear before a magistrate on Monday, said the statement.

A spokeswoman in Chicago for U.S. billionaire television magnate Winfrey said there was no one immediately available for comment.

The $40 million academy has been dogged by controversy since it opened in January with a launch attended by singers Mariah Carey and Tina Turner, actor Sydney Poitier and filmmaker Spike Lee.

Winfrey selected the first class of 152 poor, mostly black pupils to attend the school that boasts state-of-the-art facilities including laboratories, a yoga studio and beauty salon.

Tuition and board is free. The academy provides its 450 students with textbooks, uniforms and meals.


In March, some parents complained the school was too strict and its restrictions on visits, phone calls and email contact were comparable to rules in prisons.

In May, some parents complained their children were not allowed junk food and, when they visited the school, they had to go through a security gate.

Crimen injuria refers to the crime of injuring another person's dignity. This can cover racial abuse and sexual offences against children.

"We would like to thank a team of experts appointed by the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls who compiled a misconduct report which was later handed to the police," said the police statement.

"The report assisted members of the police to speed up investigations, that is, victims as well as the suspect were already identified."

South Africa's Rapport newspaper had reported that Winfrey had flown to meet parents and school officials, and asked for forgiveness for letting them down.

The residential academy is situated on 52 acres (21 hectares) at Henley-on-Klip, south of Johannesburg.


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