Debate about how sexual consent is taught in schools has been reignited in recent weeks after a petition calling for better sex education was widely shared across the country.
Hundreds of young women came forward with disturbing allegations of sexual assault and rape from their time as students or soon after.
The teenage girl told The Age she was 15 when she was allegedly raped in June last year by an older boy who went to Scotch College.
She disclosed the alleged assault several weeks after it occurred, and made a statement to police in July. However, she decided that she couldn’t deal with the stress of a criminal investigation while completing her final school years and did not pursue it further with police.
A Scotch College spokesman said the school was “extremely saddened by the trauma suffered by the young woman”.
“[Mr Batty] called the young woman’s mother and expressed how appalled he was by what had happened. At no stage was the school made aware of the identity of the perpetrator,” he said.
The spokesman said at the time they were informed of the assault, the school was working through the findings of a global research project called Responsible Sexual Citizenship, which sought to determine boys’ understanding of relationships, gender and sexuality, including consent, and the school’s culture around these ideas.
They also asked a police officer who addressed year 12 boys last year “to give particular emphasis to the issue of consent” as a result of the conversation with the young woman’s mother.
“It is clear we must do more and we are. The school recently formed a group to coordinate the findings of the research report with further development of the Respectful Relationships program,” the spokesman said.
“In due course, this might involve guidance from external agencies and individuals. Earlier in the week, the school wrote to parents and guardians on this crucial matter of respect. It is the challenge of our times.”
The mother of the alleged victim said the actions around sexual consent education were never communicated to her, which gave her the impression it wasn’t a priority for the school and believes they could be doing more.
“Why didn’t he ring and say look, just giving you an update, how is she and this is what we’re doing? And what do you think about this?” she said. “It really makes me angry.”
The woman and her daughter were also upset to learn that Scotch College did not complete the full Respectful Relationships program with year 10 students last year, even after students returned to the classroom.
The Scotch spokesman said the year 10 program, which brings together Scotch boys and girls from Methodist Ladies’ College, was “not held last year due to the interruption to in-person learning caused by COVID-19”.
“At the time of its cancellation, the school made the decision to conduct a program for these boys in 2021 when they would hopefully have returned to on-campus learning. Those elements of the Respectful Relationships program more readily transferred to online format were continued.”
Dozens of other Victorian schools were named in hundreds of new testimonies published online this week as part of the petition. The creator of the petition, Chanel Contos, who is studying a masters in gender education and international development in London, told The Age this week that the number of Victorian testimonies has been steadily increasing.
She has now received more than 5000 stories in total, and says the similarities in the accounts across the country are “eerily similar”.
“I’m very much aware that this problem is prevalent in the whole of Australia,” she said.
“It happens at all levels of institutions in Australia, but schools are truly the catalyst for change, and that’s what we need to focus on … we all need to admit what happened was disgusting and not OK and upsetting. We need to go, ‘how do we stop this for the future generations of Australia?’ And I think the answer is educate them properly on what consent is.”
For the alleged teenage victim, the petition has made her more determined to speak about her experience to increase understanding among young men about consent.
“I’m glad I had the courage to talk about it but there are so many people where if it’s not brought up it will never become known because it’s not a thing people talk about and it’s really sad,” she said.
“It’s all about conversation and it is about calling people out.”
The teen, who now suffers from severe anxiety, nightmares and at times becomes distraught and unable to go to class, says she believes there needs to be more emphasis on teaching boys about the effect sexual harassment and assault has on victims.
“They need to learn what this actually does to a person,” she said.
National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line: 1800 737 732
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Simone is a crime reporter for The Age. Most recently she covered breaking news for The Age, and before that for The Australian in Melbourne.