Imagine that you’ve just dropped your kids off at school. You’ve spent the morning rushing to make lunches, badgering the kids into getting dressed and trying to beat peak-hour traffic without actually going over the speed limit or running over any cats.
Standing at the school gates you feel a sense of relief. The kids are safe at school for six hours – where they will undoubtedly do everything within their power to avoid learning any actual algebra – until three o’clock.
But before you have a chance to savour the moment of the whole 6 hours of wonderful childless bliss ahead of you where you cana actually get some stuff DONE, you overhear a group of mothers nearby… the words ‘sex offender’ float across your radar.= display_ad('x18', 'hidden-xs hidden-md mm_incontent', 'MM In Content'); ?>= display_ad('x20', 'visible-xs mm_mob_incontent', 'MM In Content (Mobile)'); ?>
You can’t quite catch the exactly flow of the conversation but your stomach sinks all the same.
You walk over to the group and ask what’s going on. One mother replies that a child sex offender is at the school. The school that you have, moments earlier, watched your children walk into.
Your eyes widen, you swallow hard and your mind is spinning as to which of the teachers could possible have been a child sex offender. How is that EVEN POSSIBLE you ask the mothers around you.
It’s not a teacher. It’s not the parent of one of the other kids.
The sex offender is another student. A 13-year-old child.
This is the situation facing ordinary parents of children at a South Australia high school. The South Australian Government has been lambasted for not informing the school community that a sexual offender was in their midst.
The offender was a student at a different school when he committed the crime – but when he changed schools, the Education Department made the decision to not notify parents at the new school of the case.
The boy had been convicted of raping an 11-year-old student at his previous school and parents at his new school were outraged and afraid about being kept in the dark on the student’s criminal history.
The ABC interviewed the mother of the rape victim, who is worried that the Government isn’t doing enough to protect students at the new school. She said:
“My son was raped in a toilet block in a primary school. [The attacker] was 13 at the time, my son was 11. A much bigger boy, he pled guilty to the rape charge during the court process, and he was placed back into a school environment.
… These people that are making these decisions just need to step aside and put themself in this situation. If their child, if their son, their daughter, their grandchildren, their niece, their nephew, if they were to be sitting in a school next to a convicted rapist, because we have to remember he’s been convicted, how would they feel about that? Would there be any parent out there at all that would be happy about that?”
Last November, the victim’s mother (who has kept her name private at the risk her son could be publicly identified) heard about another case where parents hadn’t been told that there had been a paedophile at their school. She contacted the Education Department to make sure that the case of her own son’s rape was one where the Government would be notifying parents. As we now know – it wasn’t.
State Governments only share information about sex offenders, if they deem it to be absolutely necessary – but what determines ‘necessary’? What makes the situation a matter of public interest? How do the authorities decide if other children are in danger?
Child advocacy groups such as Braveheart believe that if authorities think a young person has a low chance of re-offending, then the Government should concentrate on rehabilitation – instead of labeling a child as a sex offender from such a young age.
But the fact remains that there would be few parents who would be comfortable with a convicted child molester being hired as a teacher in their child’s primary school. So why would a parent’s feelings be any different, just because the offender is a minor?
Last October, an online registry launched in Western Australia that publicly makes available the names and photographs of some of the state’s worst sexual offenders. While the West Australian Government said that the website would help protect children, some groups were concerned that the information would incite vigilante attacks.
The website – called Community Protection Western Australia – profiled adults but the concerns about the safety of perpetrators are even more legitimate where children are concerned. Children, even if they are convicted criminals, are still vulnerable. After being labelled as a sex offender, it would be unimaginably difficult for a 13-year-old to resume living anything that resembled a normal life.
This case raises more questions than it does answers. When it comes to the law – the rights of the child are always upheld as the most important factor in any decision. But the rights of a child offender? That’s a whole other matter…
What do you think of the case in South Australia? Should parents be notified in situations like these?
If this post brings up issues for you, or you just need someone to talk to, please call Lifeline on 131 114.