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School sexual assault claims cannot be seen as a ‘branding issue’, says sex crimes boss

Ms Maloney said it was important that allegations of sexual assault were not seen as a “branding issue” for any particular school or organisation. “It’s something that needs to be borne out and examined, and investigated as necessary,” she said.

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Some schools welcomed the petition started by former Kambala student Chanel Contos late last week, which called for better sex education. Others have been more cautious and encouraged students to avoid reading the graphic content or disclosing their school’s names.

Ms Maloney said a holistic approach to consent and sexual assault among young people was required, involving health, education and law enforcement experts.

“There [are] a whole range of misconceptions … as well as a sense of entitlement from an offender/perpetrator perspective,” she said.

“A lot of victims are not aware of the fact it is a criminal offence … Alongside that you’ve got the other factors: they feel ashamed, the fear factor of actually talking to police, going to court. And then obviously in terms of the perpetrators, a lack of understanding.”

The NSW school curriculum was revised in 2018 to introduce more explicit teachings on consent in “age-appropriate” ways throughout the kindergarten to year 10 syllabuses.

Syllabus points range from teaching bodily autonomy and understanding “private” parts in the earlier years, to practising the interpersonal skills required to negotiate safe intimate relationships in later schooling.

“The new syllabus has been in place for only a couple of years, and we expect this more explicit focus to generate more respect and understanding around this subject,” a spokeswoman for the NSW Educations Standards Authority said, adding that a cultural shift depends on “strong leadership” within the school.

Ms Maloney said people who were called out on inappropriate or illegal behaviour at a young age generally gained a better understanding of consent and their behaviour improved.

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“If the perpetrator isn’t held to account for [sexual violence], there can be numbers of victims that follow suit. That’s what we’re seeing playing out in a number of situations, unfortunately,” she said.

She has also backed changes to consent laws in NSW, which do not require the positive communication of consent. “The current laws are not adequate, and they’re not up to the community expectations that we all have,” she said.

“But it’s as simple as just asking the person. And if the person is intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, then they do not have the capacity to consent.”

If schools or teachers learn of alleged sexual assaults, they should contact police. “There is a responsibility on the school … There are victims here that are traumatised and need the necessary support,” she said.

Support services: Lifeline 13 11 14; beyondblue 1300 224 636; Domestic Violence Line 1800 65 64 63; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732

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