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Home | Blog | New focus on child abuse in Australian schools

Yesterday the Royal Commission released its report on the response of the Knox Grammar School between 1970 and 2012 to allegations of sexual abuse committed by five of its teachers – all of whom were later charged and convicted.

Unfortunately, these incidents of abuse happen far too frequently in public and private schools in Australia, often destroying children’s education and ultimately their ability to pursue their desired career paths.

In this particular report, the Royal Commission found that, during his time as headmaster of Knox, Dr Paterson’s attitude and the culture he fostered at the school were dismissive of allegations of child sexual abuse. It found that Dr Paterson failed to maintain proper records of the allegations, apart from his ‘black book’ of poor notations, and that he deliberately withheld information from the Knox Council, the body responsible for the management of the school.

Importantly, it found that Dr Paterson failed to prioritise the welfare of the boys at Knox over the reputation of the school by covering up allegations in relation to two teachers and failing to notify the parents of boys who had made allegations.

The school also failed to provide any training to staff on their mandatory reporting obligations, obligations which were operative from 1988.

Upcoming public hearings

The report was released immediately following the Chair of the Royal Commission announcing that Australian schools will be the subject of several upcoming public hearings, with a recent research report commissioned by the Royal Commission finding that an alarming number of Australia children currently do not trust schools to protect them from abusers.

Similarly, the High Court of Australia has reserved its decision on whether a South Australian boarding school can be held liable in negligence or as employer for the sexual abuse of students committed by a boarding house master. It will be the first time the High Court has consider the issue since its decision in New South Wales v Lepore [2003] HCA 4.

We are yet to see Australian courts deal with the occurrence of child sexual abuse in Australian schools (or any other type of institution) as a systemic, cultural issue. While such a position was unsuccessfully argued recently by a survivor in relation to schools conducted by the Marist Brothers in New South Wales, survivors often remain atomised and unable to advance their claims with reference to the broader systemic and cultural context in which child sexual abuse has occurred in Australia. This remains to be seen.

If you or someone you know have experienced child sexual abuse within a school, you might be entitled to bring a claim for compensation. Our team of expert lawyers can advise you on your options, so call 13 43 63 today.

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