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'We need to do more': elite school rocked by sexual assault claims

Allegations of rape and sexual assault have been levelled against former students of a Tasmanian private school in testimonials published online.
Allegations of rape and sexual assault have been levelled against former students of a Tasmanian private school in testimonials published online.

Allegations of rape and sexual assault levelled against students, dating back to 2007, have prompted the headmaster of an elite private boys school to write to parents and assure them more will be done to foster a "culture of respect and healthy relationships".

It came after thousands of accounts of rape and sexual assault in Australian schools were shared on a website created in mid-Feburary by a 22-year-old London-based survivor, Chanel Contos, originally from Sydney.

The platform allows people to share testimonials and to sign a petition calling for sexual consent to be taught to students from an earlier age.

At the time of print, the petition had attracted more than 35,500 signatures and more than 3,300 testimonials had been submitted.

A small number of these refer to alleged incidents said to have occurred in Tasmania. And one school is mentioned more than others: the Hutchins School, located in Sandy Bay.

A woman who completed her education at St Michael's Collegiate School - which is Hutchins' sister school - in 2015 wrote that she was "sexually assaulted or harassed" by "so many boys" from Hutchins.

"Most of my friends were assaulted," the anonymous woman wrote. "Yet, at the time none of us thought it was assault as we were victims of the patriarchy and society (and popularity) and we were socialised to think that we were special if boys gave us attention, even if we didn't want it."

Another former Collegiate student, who left the school in 2007, said "the all boys school nearby" had "an extremely toxic rape culture".

"I experienced several instances of harassment, rape, victim blaming and slut shaming," she wrote. "The victim blaming and slut shaming came from the girls as well."

"It took me years to understand that I had been raped, and I am confident that none of my rapists have come to identify their own actions as rape.

"The education needs to be clear and early, focus on enthusiastic consent and tackle the social issues surrounding rape culture. And the responsibility of boys to ensure consent must be emphasised."

One other woman, who chose not to disclose the year she left Collegiate, said she was assaulted at 18 by a former Hutchins student a similar age to herself.

After a night out on Hobart's waterfront, she went back to another young man's home with a female friend and her alleged attacker, who she also considered a friend.

Eventually, she found herself alone with him "sitting and chatting", before he started kissing her.

"He kept kissing me and started touching me," she said. "And I was like, 'No, no, no, I don't want to do this'. And he was like, 'No, it's fine, we're friends. This is what friends do'. I was trying to stop him from taking my pants off. He was trying to get his hands down [there]. I was like, 'Seriously, just stop. I just want you to stop. Just please just stop'.

"I just kind of let him for a minute because I was like, 'I don't know what's going to happen, I don't know how I'm going to get out of this'."

Most of my friends were assaulted.

Former St Michael's Collegiate School student

Eventually, the woman managed to escape to the home of a friend who lived nearby. She says she managed to repress the memory of the alleged incident until just recently.

In a letter to parents, dated March 5, Hutchins headmaster Rob McEwan acknowledged the existence of the site set up by Ms Contos, praising the bravery of the women and girls who had signed the petition and told their stories.

"In articulating their experiences, these young women have forced us to ask the question, 'Are we doing enough?" he wrote.

IN OTHER NEWS:

Mr McEwan said Hutchins students participated in discussions and workshops with trained staff from Tasmania's Sexual Assault Support Service, commencing in the junior school (Years 3-6) and continuing throughout students' education.

He also noted that Year 12 students had, in recent years, "initiated discussions around equality, gender and respect", and had raised $17,500 for the Hobart Women's Shelter last year.

"While I am encouraged by these initiatives, the revelations of recent days show we need to do much more," Mr McEwan wrote. "We need to be more overt and crystal clear about what is acceptable and what is not and reinforce it more regularly. We need to build a stronger culture where boys are willing and able to call each other out when they become aware of unacceptable behaviour, comments and attitudes."

"As a school we are committed to doing much more to create a culture of respect and healthy relationships. Direct, unambiguous conversations and statements about consent, at home and at school are, as the brave women who signed that petition and told their stories indicate, the very least we can do right now."

If this story has raised any concerns for you, the following support services are available:

  • 1800 Respect
  • Sexual Assault Support Service: 1800 697 877
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
This story 'We need to do more': elite school rocked by sexual assault claims first appeared on The Advocate.