Tuesday, November 6, 2007

OPRAH WINFREY held a press conference early Monday morning to address the allegations of abuse at her Leadership Academy in South Africa.

She and school officials acknowledged that this has been a difficult time, but stressed that the girls continue to receive best counseling and support.

"I have wanted to speak since my first visit," she said via satellite in Chicago. "I didn’t want to jeopardize the investigation."

"Oct 6th, I spoke to [school CEO] JOHN SAMUEL ... [he] informed me that fifteen girls had come to his office to see him with a list of grievances, including sexual abuse, by a dorm matron," she said. "They didn't use the word sexual abuse. Hearing that, John Samuel immediately removed the accused -- TINY MAKOPO -- from campus."

"I was, needless to say, devastated and shaken to my core when I heard this news," Oprah said.

Afterwards, she held a meeting with the girls, "I spoke to all the girls personally and encouraged whoever had been harmed to come forward. I told them that although they had been living in an atmosphere that oppressed their voices, this was to take their voices back ... As a result of their conversation, five other brave girls came forward ... The following weekend ... I met with the parents and their daughters, I apologized for the circumstance and promised to institute changes."

"This has been one of the most devastating experiences of my life," she said. "A horrible situation has been uncovered."

In a Q & A session following her statements, Oprah confirmed reports that she has promised the students cell phones.

As to the employee screening process, she said, "Knowing what I know now, the screening process was inadequate, although I do know for every person who is hired there is both a criminal and civil background check."

She also said that the headmistress who was put on leave will not be renewing her contract, which expires this December.

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