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Monday, March 8, 2021

Schools vow to ‘change culture’ after female students came forward about sexual assaults by boys 

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A young woman who started a petition that led to hundreds of schoolgirls speaking out about their teenage sexual assaults says schoolboys are so poorly educated about consent they barely even know what it is.

Dozens of harrowing claims emerged due to a petition demanding schools implement better sex education that teaches consent.

The petition, launched on Thursday by former Kambala student Chanel Contos, 22, prompted disturbing allegations against boys from prestigious private schools.  

Ms Contos on Sunday said it was ‘frustrating’ to think a male classmate who allegedly assaulted schoolgirls may not have even realised he did something wrong. 

Hundreds of girls who attended Sydney private schools has claimed they were sexually assaulted and raped by private school boys and are demanding schools implement better sex consent education. Pictured: Chanel Contos is calling for better sex education

Hundreds of girls who attended Sydney private schools has claimed they were sexually assaulted and raped by private school boys and are demanding schools implement better sex consent education. Pictured: Chanel Contos is calling for better sex education

Chantel Contos' petition now has signatures from close to 12,000 former and current school students across Australia

At least 1,500 former students have signed the petition or shared stories of their own alleged assaults, with some boys even saying they perpetrated assault as students. Pictured: Chantel Contos said she was forced to perform oral sex as her first sexual experience

‘I decided the best way to approach it is to attack the education system because ultimately it is the education system that failed us on this,’ she told Weekend Today.

‘If I was to improve [education about consent] I would say it needs to be more wholistic and taken to factors such as toxic masculinity and rape culture and slut-shaming.

‘It is all those things the concoction of these things that creates this environment. But even though that consent talk [we had in Year 10] was great, it happened too late.

‘Me and a lot of my friends walked out of that room with the heavy realisation that we had actually been sexual abused. 

‘I remember we we went to lunch that day and we were going around the circle going, “Oh, my god, my guy could get 14 years, my guy could get 7 years.” 

‘It was shocking to think something that we just think it’s just normal, we think it happens to us, we think it’s part of growing up because no-one tells us otherwise is, yeah, a criminal offence.’

Ms Contos said police did not deal with sexual assault very well and often told girls not to report them because it would mess up with schooling or be too traumatic in court.

However, she said though how police dealt with rape cases was problematic, she wanted to address the root cases of sexual assault so they don’t happen in the first place.

‘It’s no about letting girls know, no means no. That’s not good enough. It’s not just no means no it’s social pressure means no, it’s, “I’m not sure,” means no, it’s physical body language means no. 

Ms Contos said Kambala High School (pictured) gave her a 'great consent education but they gave it too late'

Ms Contos said Kambala High School (pictured) gave her a ‘great consent education but they gave it too late’

Chantel Contos (pictured) is calling for schools to provide consent sexual education to students from a young age

Chantel Contos (pictured) is calling for schools to provide consent sexual education to students from a young age 

‘All these things, they don’t get properly addressed and it needs to be done at the root.

‘My point is the boys should be educated to know in the first place that it’s not the right thing to do because I don’t think they are. I don’t think a lot of the things these boys did when they were 14, 15, 16 they would do in their late 20s.

‘But, a lot would – those behaviours are learned early and they’re hard to change but there is such a weird line because it doesn’t take the blame off the boys but they don’t know any better.

‘How can we expect them to know better if we don’t teach them?’

Principals have vowed to change their schools’ culture after hundreds of private schoolgirls came forward to allege they were sexually assaulted by male students.

Dr Julie Townsend, principal of St Catherine’s in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, said the school will work with boys’ school Waverley College to further educate students on sexual assault.

‘While the instances in the petition are all outside of school, schools have the opportunity to be part of the counter-cultural change,’ Waverley principal Graham Leddie told the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Ms Contos' petition now has 6,400 signatures and nearly 700 testimonies from woman aged between 13 to 50-years-old from across Australia

The petition has now spread to schools across Australia with hundreds of testimonies sent in

Ms Contos’ petition now has 6,400 signatures and nearly 700 testimonies from woman aged between 13 to 50-years-old from across Australia 

Dr Townsend said she was grateful the girls came forward to detail their horrific experiences. 

‘I’m really grateful to those girls. They have done the next generation of boys and girls a great, great service,’ she wrote in a letter to parents.

However, principals said parents had an important role to play and needed to work with schools to educate students about consent together.

‘Parents know best when to have the vital open and honest conversations about sexual matters with their daughters and sons,’ Dr Townsend wrote..

‘As the online testimonies reveal, teenage parties can be the scene of sexual assaults, so it is important that you and your children are clear about the risks they pose and how you and they can mitigate that risk.’

St Catherine’s intends to book a speaker for parents to form a support system for past students. 

‘There are so many men who are upright and respectable young men, we don’t want to lose that in this. But I think it’s a difficult culture to break,’ Dr Townsend told the SMH. 

Wenona principal Briony Scott said her school regularly talked about consent to parents and students, and the dangers of alcohol and ‘party culture’. 

‘Despite this, every year something goes wrong, somewhere… Together, as a community, as a society, we can all do so much more,’ she said.

Kambala principal Shane Hogan plans to provide information to parents about consent and respectful relationships. 

‘[We are] commending the bravery of the young women to call out this behaviour and calling on any Kambala girls or old girls who have experienced this to contact us to access our on campus counselling support and support,’ he said. 

Nearly 12,000 people, including many former students of private schools, have signed the petition or shared stories of their own alleged assaults. 

Ms Contos told Daily Mail Australia she started the petition after her friend confided in her about a sexual assault case that happened when she was 14-years-old. 

‘When I saw how distressed she was eight, nine years later, I knew that something had to be done,’ she said. 

‘The realisation you’ve been sexually assaulted, it’s a hard thing to go through’.  

Ms Contos said she was forced to give oral sex to a boy when she was in Year 8, but did not realise she had been raped or learn about consent until she attended a sex consent class in Year 10 that presented by a former police officer. 

‘I was angry, but also had a sense of clarity around that I had in fact been sexually abused,’ she said. 

But she wasn’t the only girl who realized they had just been sexually abused. 

‘I walked out of that room together with my friends and I remember the girls saying ‘my guy could get seven years’ or ‘mine could go to jail for 17 years’,’ she recalled. 

Chanel Contos' petition nearly has 7,000 signatures from men and women across Australia

Chanel Contos’ petition nearly has 7,000 signatures from men and women across Australia

Testimonials on the petition have accused unnamed students from Sydney's most exclusive all-boy schools, including St Ignatius Riverview (pictured)

Testimonials on the petition have accused unnamed students from Sydney’s most exclusive all-boy schools, including St Ignatius Riverview (pictured) 

Ms Contos said despite her school giving her a ‘great consent education, they gave it too late.’

‘A lot of people are already sexually active by 15 or 16, and you need to have this consent training before you become sexually active’, she said.  

‘People who have contacted me have said they received no consent sexual education, especially boys schools said that it was minimal to none.’

Ms Contos’ petition now has 6,400 signatures and nearly 700 testimonies from woman aged between 13 to 50-years-old from across Australia. 

Allegations outlined in testimonials on the petition including being drugged and raped, being assaulted while intoxicated, waking up to find boyfriends having sex with them and being forced to perform oral sex.

Ms Contos said two boys have left testimonies allegedly they have also experienced sexual assault, and around 15 have messaged to say they are questioning their past sexual experiences. 

Some former private schoolboys even confessed anonymously to perpetrating sexual assault or harassment, saying they regretted their actions. 

‘When I was younger I hooked up with a girl at a party when she was so drunk she couldn’t stand. Since then I have apologised to her and she has accepted,’ wrote one person who said they were a student at in 2015.

‘However I still think about the potential damage I did to her and wonder what longstanding damage I could’ve done to her as an adult.’  

Testimonials on the petition have accused unnamed students from Sydney’s most exclusive all-boy schools, including Scots, Cranbrook, Sydney Grammar School, St Joseph’s, Waverley, St Ignatius Riverview, and Shore.

Women said they had attended all-girls schools including Kambala, Kincoppal-Rose Bay, St Catherine’s School, Pymble Ladies College, Wenona, Queenwood and Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College. 

The petition called for schools to provide consent sex education to students ‘from a young age.’ 

‘These are uncomfortable conversations to have with young teenagers,’ it reads.

‘[But] it is far more uncomfortable to live knowing that something happened to you, or a friend, or perhaps that you were even the perpetrator of it, and it could have been avoided.’

Schools told the Sydney Morning Herald they needed to be allowed to teach consent and sex education without being restrained by politics.

‘It is also essential that schools (both public and independent) are allowed to teach about such matters rather than have them being constrained by the personal but public opinions of politicians or criticised when wanting to educate around sexuality,’ said Wenona principal Dr Briony Scott. 

Ms Contos (pictured) said she hopes the petition will bring change to sexuality education to students across Australia

Ms Contos (pictured) said she hopes the petition will bring change to sexuality education to students across Australia 

St Catherine’s School headmistress Dr Julie Townsend said it was ‘heartbreaking’ to read the testimonials. 

‘It is clear from these girls’ testimonies that many of them have suffered in silence for years, and we need to ensure that, not only do they understand what assault is, but know their rights in reporting it and charging someone,’ she said.   

Principal of boys school Waverley College Graham Leddie said schools needed to be held to ‘a high standard.’  

‘We need to raise our expectations of a generation of boys in Australia that have a reputation for being self-serving, entitled and craving instant gratification,’ he said.

Ms Contos said she’s thankful for the discussions and reflection the petition has opened across Australia and worldwide.   

‘I hope the petition brings change to sexuality education, it needs to be more holistic, not by only incorporating consent, but also the forces that shape behaviors such as toxic masculinity and rape culture’, she said. 

‘I hope this will better equip younger generations, so they never had the delayed realization that they’ve been victims or perpetrators of sexual assault’. 

If this story has raised issues for you, please contact 1800 Respect 1800 737 732, Lifeline 13 11 14, beyondblue 1300 224 636, Domestic Violence Line 1800 65 64 63

This post was first published on DailyMail.

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