“Profoundly disappointed” are the words Oprah Winfrey used concerning the acquittal of Tiny Virginia Makopo, an ex-matron at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Prosecutors accused Makopo of trying to kiss and fondle girls at the school, along with assaulting a student and a fellow worker.
Mthunzi Mhaga, a spokesman for South Africa’s National Prosecuting Attorney, stated today that Makopo has been acquitted of the charges, and added, “The magistrate indicated that the state did not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt on all the charges. We won’t be appealing the judgment.”
Winfrey has promised an overhaul of the school and called the allegations crushing, considering her own stated history of childhood sexual abuse. She said, “I will forever be proud of the nine girls who testified with the courage and conviction to be heard.”
We all know about Winfrey’s $40 million school that opened in January 2007, giving girls from deprived backgrounds an education that will mold them into future leaders. South Africa is brimming with a history of apartheid and lack of opportunity for blacks, as well as women. It is ironic that a black female would be accused of molesting girls at the school.
Nine young girls testified against this woman, yet she was acquitted. However, acquittal does not mean innocence. (I, and everyone else who followed the O.J. Simpson trial, knows that.) It means the visible evidence wasn’t there, or it was tainted.
As a woman who experienced a single incident of sexual abuse as a child, I will not dishonor these nine young girls who came forward to tell what happened to them by questioning their credibility; when they were molested, they were dishonored enough. It takes extreme courage and fortitude, as a child, or as an adult, to face the criminal who molested or raped you. In my situation, the evidence was not there either, but my mother believed me, handled the situation, and I never had to face the perpetrator again.
The girls’ stories are believable; there are some forms of sexual abuse that leave evidence and others that do not. Kissing and fondling would not leave evidence, such as semen, tears in the vagina, and other visible proof. The number of girls who testified, the similarities in their stories, and the circumstantial evidence should have been enough for a conviction.
I won’t villainize Makopo, nor will I judge her beyond the evidence. She may, or may not have been, a victim of childhood sexual abuse herself. If she was, she needs help and must make a choice not to abuse others.
I’m heartened to hear that Winfrey will ‘overhaul’ her school and that the girls will continue pursuing excellence in education.
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