NSW police to brief private school heads after viral petition on student sexual assault

Michael McGowan
·3-min read

The heads of hundreds of private schools across New South Wales will be briefed by the boss of the police sex crimes squad this week as the sector scrambles to address concerns raised by a new viral petition that has gathered more than 3,000 testimonies of alleged sexual assault committed by high school students.

The Sunday Telegraph reports the new head of the state’s child abuse and sex crimes squad, Stacey Maloney, will speak to principals from hundreds of private schools this week in a bid to address growing concerns following the release of the petition.

The petition, started by Chanel Contos, a former student of Sydney’s Kambala girls’ school, has received more than 3,000 testimonies from students who experienced sexual assault by other students – including some as young as 13.

Related: Viral petition against student sexual assault a 'wake-up call', Sydney private school principals say

Signed by thousands of people as of Sunday, the petition has prompted the heads of many of Sydney’s elite private schools to call for an overhaul of their own consent education.

On Sunday the Telegraph reported the newly appointed Maloney would speak to principals this Friday to “discuss the issue of sexual violence”.

“This week myself and assistant commissioner Stuart Smith will meet with key figures from the sector around how we can work together to create an environment and culture where students can focus on education and empowerment safely without fear,” she said.

The petition, which since its launch has been expanded to include private schools across Australia, has seen the heads of dozens of schools commit to an overhaul of consent education. The head of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, Geoff Newcombe, said the sector needed to make sure students “understand the seriousness of the concept of consent”.

Similarly, the headmaster of Cranbrook school, Nicholas Sampson, told the Guardian last week that schools “need to take further action” and committed to reviewing pastoral care, including holding mixed-gender education programs, at the boy’s only school.

Dr Julie Townsend, the principal at St Catherine’s school, an all-girls school in Sydney, similarly said the testimonials were “heartbreaking”.

“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.

It comes as the Victorian education minister, James Merlino, called for the nationwide rollout of the state “Respectful Relationships” education program in all schools following the release of the petition.

Merlino, who has reportedly instructed his department to meet with Contos, told the Age he would like to see the program, which was introduced following the royal commission into family violence, to be rolled out nationwide.

Related: The trouble with boys: what lies behind the flood of teenage sexual assault stories?

The program specifically addresses the issue of consent from year 7, but Merlino said he would be open to seeing that expanded.

“No state or territory, including Victoria, should be complacent in making sure consent is taught well in classrooms. If we need to make changes to ensure that the issue of consent is taught in a better way that makes a real difference, then we stand ready to make those changes,” Merlino told the Age.

“It’s a program that works and goes directly to the issue of understanding consent, and I think there is real value in it being rolled out nationwide.”