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EXCLUSIVE: The "disturbing", "shameful" sexual assault guidelines of one of Australia's richest schools.

Trigger Warning: This post deals with sexual abuse and may be disturbing for some readers.

Geelong Grammar is one of the wealthiest schools in the country – and over recent weeks, it has been revealed that it has been the setting of a number of indecent acts against children. 

Nina Funnell, author and advocate against sexual assault and gender based violence, has obtained a copy of the Geelong Grammar sexual assault guidelines and was appalled by the contents.

Nina Funnell writes…

It is one of the most elite private schools in Australia, but Geelong Grammar’s history of sexual abuse and cover-ups has been exposed by the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

Prince Charles was a former Geelong Grammar student.

Some of the events revealed by the Royal Commission about Geelong Grammar have included:

  • At least 10 former staff members (including two Reverends) have been accused of or found guilty of sexually based offenses against Geelong Grammar students in crimes which spanned from the late 1950’s to 2007.
  • Children as young as 10 were molested.
  • One teacher sexually abused at least 41 students in the 1980’s and 90’s.
  • A 14 year old student was expelled after disclosing sexual abuse to two friends.
  • Teachers who were suspected of abuse or misconduct were often kept on staff, and in one case, a perpetrator who exposed his genitals to students was moved to the junior campus.
  • In 2004, former headmaster Nicholas Sampson failed to report an offending teacher to police and instead paid him a $64,000 golden handshake to take an early retirement.
  • Another former headmaster has described the sexual abuse at the school as “comparatively modest”.

The current headmaster, Stephen Meek, has repeatedly assured the Royal Commission that in recent years, the school has implemented “robust” policies to deal with sexual assault.

But while the school does appear to have rushed in some new policies in time for the Royal Commission, it has also retained some disturbing previous policies.

In a Mamamia exclusive, we can reveal in detail the contents of Geelong Grammar’s current Guidelines for Response to a Claim of Sexual Assault.

The grounds of Geelong Grammar School.

The guidelines, which appear in Geelong Grammar’s 2015 Pastoral Care policy, have been slammed by experts as “absolutely appalling” and “outrageous”. Here are some of the take-home lessons from the seven page Guidelines:

1. Remember, the sexual abuse victim might be lying or causing “mischief”.

The Guidelines begin with an introduction, reminding staff not to automatically believe all sexual assault complaints because “false accusations” do occur, and therefore staff should remain “open” to the possibility that the child is confused or lying.

From the Guidelines:

What do we understand by “Sexual assault”?
The community’s understanding of the term varies widely, but many people consider that if a person thinks they have been sexually assaulted, they have been. There are however instances of false accusations, or situations where the interaction of the person alleged to have been assaulted and the person alleged to be the perpetrator is complex and not entirely one sided. The passage of time between the event and the notification may lead to altered memory. Thus it is wise to keep an open mind when listening to allegations, but always taking them seriously. (Page 33)

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The Guidelines also urge staff to respect alleged perpetrators and give them the benefit of the doubt (until it is no longer possible to do so), as apparently some students are just out to cause mischief:

The [accused perpetrator] should be listened to and his/her account respected until shown to be clearly incorrect. It should be recognized that investigation can show that the allegation is a result of misunderstanding or is mischievous. (Page 36)

A separate part of the Pastoral Policy also states that students sometimes “misinterpret” a “kindly gesture” from a teacher “as having some sexual connotation”.

These statements are especially disturbing when you consider that one of the leading reasons why victims are reluctant to come forward is fear that they won’t be believed or that the assault will be minimized as ‘just a big misunderstanding’. For child sexual assault victims, this fear is particularly pronounced, due to the legitimate belief that an adult’s word will often be taken over that of a child.

Nicholas Sampson, former Principal of Geelong Grammar School. (Via The Cranbrook School)

2. If a child is raped or even gang raped by other students, no need to involve police.

According to the Guidelines, alerting police is not always essential in dealing with sexual assault:

Police involvement.
If the [sexual] assault has been by an adult, a report to police should be considered. It is not necessary to involve police if an incident is between students and the school and/or parents are taking appropriate action. (Page 38, underline emphasis added)

In other words, if a student is raped or molested by another student (as various former students have alleged), then according to these Guidelines, it is not essential to report to police, and if the perpetrator is an adult, then the police only need to be “considered”.

3. Instead, conduct your own investigation (even if it risks contaminating the evidence).

Instead, the Guidelines include steps so that the school can conduct its own internal investigation. According to Karen Willis, Executive Officer of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, this is inappropriate and has the capacity to destroy or contaminate evidence.

“There is only one body that has the authority to conduct a sexual assault investigation and that is the police. Any other type of investigation is usually designed to either intimidate the witness, punish them for coming forward, and has the potential to corrupt evidence” says Willis.

The policy also states that following the ‘formal interview’ with the victim, a medical exam should be organised by the school:

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Medical examination.
If there has been sexual penetration, it is essential to arrange a doctor to examine and if necessary carry out tests for STDs. This would normally be done by a doctor (a female doctor if the student is a girl) from the practice serving the school campus. (Page 35)

According to Willis, only doctors who are expertly trained in conducting a forensic rape-kit examination should perform this sort of exam, as other GPs wouldn’t necessarily know what to look for, and worse, they may even destroy evidence in the process. “Their evidence is not even admissible in court, unless they have the specialist forensic training and have done the relevant course. So they are putting the victim through an invasive procedure for no legal or medical purpose”, says Willis.

sexualabusegeelonggrammar
“If a student is raped or molested by another student… it is not essential to report to police” (Image via iStock).

4. The rights of the perpetrator come before the victim’s right to confidentiality.

As part of the investigative process, the Guidelines also state that the perpetrator should be informed of the accusation and interviewed by the school.

But according to Willis, only police should manage discussions about allegations with the perpetrator, as interference by a school can undermine a future police investigation and give the perpetrator time to destroy evidence.

Yet Geelong Grammar’s Guidelines state that not only should the alleged perpetrator’s version of events then be “respected” and “listened to” by the school, but the perpetrator’s right to be informed comes ahead of the victim’s right to confidentiality:

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It is a matter of natural justice that a person who is being accused of sexual assault, and who may have to answer for it, should have the opportunity of hearing the accusation and to respond to it. This may then impact on the right of confidentiality of the student who alleges to have been assaulted. (Page 37)

5. Don’t forget to limit the school’s liability.

While the Guidelines suggest that is not always necessary to contact the police following a rape, “consideration should be given to informing the school’s insurance company.”

In general, consideration should be given to informing the school’s insurers. […]
It is far more likely that the school, rather than the perpetrator, would be held responsible if litigation was considered by parents or student. (Page 37)

6. And in general, the “damaged party” should forgive the “wrong doer” because, after-all…these things happen.

Preceding the Sexual Assault Guidelines, The Pastoral Policy also includes a generalized preamble about the importance of forgiveness.

People live in relationships. When people live and work together disputes are inevitable and errors are made… Error is of course how we learn and error must be managed positively in a relational sense….Those relational ‘partners’ who have felt that the relationship has been harmed also must accept and acknowledge the error, understand the error circumstance, forgive the error maker and then work ‘with’ the error maker to co-jointly work to repair the relationship damaged….[the injured party also shares] a responsibility [alongside the ‘wrong doer’] to repair the relationship to the best that is possible. (Page 4)

No.

For a document that includes the school’s Guidelines on sexual assault, this preamble is misplaced at best, and deeply self-serving at worst.

After all, when it comes to sexual assault, the only responsibility that the ‘damaged party’ has is to act in a way that will best facilitate their own recovery. For some victims, this may involve forgiveness, but for plenty of others it won’t. And those individuals need to know that is totally acceptable and fine.

Geelong Grammar’s Toorak Campus (Image via Twitter @GeelongGrammar).

(It would be preferably if more religious leaders realised that the opposite of preaching forgiveness is not preaching grudge-holding or anger: the opposite of preaching forgiveness is preaching accountability and answerability.)

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7. Bonus Round: An imaginative retelling of life as a porn addict

Following the sexual assault guidelines, the Pastoral Policy also includes a bizarre two page rant about pornography.

While statements about porn are increasingly common (and appropriate) in schools’ policies, what is surprising about Geelong’s Pornography Statement is that it doesn’t include any mention of the things that one might expect to be covered in such a statement, including for example, that along with students, staff are not permitted to view or have pornography at school, that showing pornography to a minor is a grooming offense, that anyone found to be in possession of child pornography will be reported to police and dismissed immediately, that any staff member or student caught ‘upskirting’ or inappropriately filming other staff or students will be reported to police immediately, and so on.

Including this material and reiterating the severity of pornography crimes would seem especially important for this particular school given its appalling history around pornography: in 2007 teacher Stefan van Vuuren took photos up the skirts of female students; another former staff member Phillippe Trutmann was found to be in possession of 485 child porn images and 159 videos of child pornography; and various other reports exist involving teachers alleged to have possessed child pornography or shown pornography to students as a form of grooming.

Even more bizarre is what the two page statement does include: a lengthy, lurid, and almost manic rant which laments the lonely plight of the porn addict:

Those addicted to pornography are hostages of their own preoccupation. They are on the path to sex addiction. Every passerby, every relationship, and every introduction to someone passes through the sexuality obsessive filter […] The eventual loss of control over sexual expression presents.

The addiction surfaces in the addict’s inability to manage his or her life. Procrastination becomes the daily nemesis of the addict’s life. Pornography and sex take over. One of the worst consequences of the addiction is the addict’s isolation. The addict becomes alienated from parents, friends, with all those close to them. Their relationships disintegrate quickly. One addictive behaviour usually leads to other addictions. Emotional illnesses can flourish.

Depression, bi-polar disorders, suicide, obsessive compulsive behaviour, and post-traumatic stress disorder are frequent companions to addiction[…] Deception is usually the epicentre of the behaviour. Deception begins with self and then spreads to infect each and every life circumstance and relationship lived. Deviant behaviour can take over, relationships challenged and isolation and loneliness can result [….] Psychologists describe a trancelike state being developed. This trancelike state bypasses logic, and those ‘addicted’ find themselves doing things they never imagined [… ] All becomes “just too complicated and too hard”. ‘Loneliness’, as mentioned will likely appear.

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A real sense of abandonment can present and dominate. Friends, family, teachers and acquaintances will no longer trust or believe in this person [… ]In the end nothing is real and nothing is of value. (Page 45- 46).

How very…. descriptive?

So where are the parents?

So what I really want to know is where the parents are in all this. Have they never read these Guidelines, which are proudly displayed and freely available on the school’s website? Or do they feel there is no problem?

And given that it is compulsory for all Year 9 students at Geelong Grammar to spend an entire year boarding in an isolated bush location 225km from Melbourne, where students are not even permitted to have mobile phones (parents reportedly pay more than $52,000 for this experience), surely you would think that at least some parents would have read up on the school’s position on various pastoral issues.

With a reported annual income of more than $27 million, surely the school could have paid someone to prepare a more comprehensive policy?

Current principal, Stephen Meek, addressing students at a school assembly. (Image via Twitter @GeelongGrammar)

After all, while the current policy includes some additional material on mandatory reporting laws which was not included in the 2013 edition of the policy, the fact that the school has deliberately continued to retain the problematic “Guidelines on response to a claim of sexual assault” is all too telling.

How any school, let alone one which is the target of the Royal Commission, could continue to adopt these deeply problematic Guidelines is simply staggering.

And while Geelong Grammar has been described as the most expensive private school in Australia, with parents of Year 12 day students forking out more than $34,000 per year in tuition fees, what the Royal Commission has shown is that money and privilege does not always buy protection for children.

Shame on you, Geelong Grammar. Shame on any former staff members who abused children in their care. Shame on any adult who watched on in silence. And shame on these disturbing guidelines and those who continue to accept them.

Nina Funnell is an author and advocate against sexual assault and gender based violence.

Are you experiencing sexual assault or domestic and family violence? Seeking to support someone who is? Contact 1800 RESPECT or visit the National Support Counselling Service here.