Arrest Made in Abuse Case at Oprah Winfrey-Sponsored Academy for Girls in South Africa

Published: Nov. 2, 2007 at 3:46 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 2, 2007 at 8:38 PM EDT
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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) - 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.

"Several charges including alleged assault, indecent assault, criminal injury and soliciting underage girls to perform indecent acts are being investigated against her," Dlamini said.

At least seven victims have submitted statements, he said.

The woman was being held by police and was expected to appear Monday in Sebokeng magistrate's court, south of Johannesburg, he said.

The school, which was opened in January amid much fanfare, announced Oct. 17 that a dormitory matron had been suspended amid allegations of serious misconduct.

Local media recently reported that Winfrey made a tearful apology to parents and pupils in a meeting at the school. The media reports said the woman is accused of physically abusing pupils and fondling at least one of them.

In a statement posted Friday on the school's Web site, Winfrey said: "I'd like to thank the South African Police Services for bringing this investigation at my Academy to a timely resolution."

"I am grateful for their compassion and sensitivity to the girls during this difficult time. It means the world to me," the talk show host said. "It is my deepest hope that the accused is brought to justice and that this serves as a reminder that any time a child has the courage to step forward, it is our duty as adults to listen and take immediate action."

Winfrey opened her Leadership Academy for Girls outside Johannesburg on Jan. 2, with celebrities like Tina Turner and Spike Lee in attendance, as well as former President Nelson Mandela.

The lavish $40 million school was the fulfillment of a promise she made to Mandela six years ago and aims to give 152 girls from deprived backgrounds a quality education in a country where schools are struggling to overcome the legacy of apartheid.