Oprah School Suspect Bailed

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Police said they arrested Mokgobo last week after a criminal investigation into the allegations, which have sparked a scandal at Winfrey's vaunted $40 million academy. Winfrey opened the school in January to great fanfare

 

The woman charged with abusing students at Oprah Winfrey's school for girls appeared in court Monday, looking overwhelmed and coming close to tears on the witness stand.

Tiny Virginia Mokgobo, 27, was formally charged Monday with 13 counts of abusing and assaulting students at the school. She pleaded not guilty and was released on bail. Makopo, who was a matron at the school, faces charges of assault, indecent assault, and crimen injuria, which involves verbal abuse which violates the victim's dignity.

The state alleges there were seven victims. Six are between the ages of 13 and 14 and one was 23. The prosecutor said that "as a dormitory parent, she was in a trusted position," and that Mokgobo abused that trust.

"A horrible situation has been uncovered and rooted out," Winfrey said Monday, praising the 15 girls who she said reported suspicions of abuse to the school's CEO.  "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 am prepared to do whatever is necessary to make sure that the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls becomes the safe and nurturing and enriched setting that I had envisioned," Winfrey said.

"Knowing what I know now, the screening process was inadequate" for Mokgobo's position, Winfrey said. "We are going to redefine what that position should mean and what the qualifications for that position should be."

She said the contract of the school's headmistress will not be renewed when it expires at the end of the year. Winfrey -- who has spoken publicly about the abuse she suffered as a child -- said when she first heard about the abuse charges last month, she cried for half an hour.

"I was so stunned I couldn't even wrap my brain around it," she said. "Within the hour I pulled myself together and started making calls and preparing for what to do next and how to best look after the girls."

Mokgobo was released on bail of 3,000 rand (U.S.$460). Her next court appearance is January 13.

Conditions of her bail mean Mokgobo must report four times a week to the local police station and may not leave her district without permission. She is also barred from returning to the school or having any contact with the employees or alleged victims.

Police said they arrested Mokgobo last week after a criminal investigation into the allegations, which have sparked a scandal at Winfrey's vaunted $40 million academy. Winfrey opened the school in January to great fanfare, saying she hoped it would provide opportunities to girls from poor backgrounds.

It is not clear when the abuse happened and only some of the allegations are known. Police have confirmed that one instance involves Mokgobo allegedly grabbing a girl by the throat and throwing her against a wall.

Police have said Mokgobo, who is suspended from her job, is the only person being investigated in the case.


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