In the 1980s, Joe was teaching at a Christian Brothers school in South Australia.
A student asked him if he could get another teacher, Mr Taylor, to stop bothering him. Joe asked what he meant by ‘bothering him’, and the boy replied, ‘He rings me and he wants to catch up with me all the time. He’s bothering me and I want him to stop’.
Joe told the Commissioner that Taylor was an assistant boarding master at the school, aged about 21, though he acted much younger. ‘He was like one of the kids, rather than an adult.’
Joe reported the student’s comment to his immediate superior, Greg, also a boarding house staff member. Greg rolled his eyes and said, ‘Leave it with me’. Joe heard nothing further about the matter and assumed it had been dealt with.
Nine years later, the headmaster, Brother Owen, called a staff meeting, during which, Joe said, staff were told that ‘an obsessed mother’ of a student who had been abused was seeking assistance from her local parliamentary representative to mention the school under parliamentary privilege. Taylor had been charged with child sexual assault in relation to the woman’s sons and the matter was before the court. The boy’s mother wanted the school to be called to account.
Joe said the school went into lockdown. In his 30 years’ experience teaching there, it wasn’t uncommon for matters that were potentially damaging to the school to be managed in this way. Even now, Joe said, ‘on paper they don’t run the school, but they still run it’, through the organisational and management structure.
Joe became depressed and anxious at what he saw as a failure to deal with Taylor’s behaviour years earlier. He viewed the school’s management of the mother’s grievance as unethical, and cited a media interview in which the school’s spokesperson stated that the school hadn’t known about Taylor’s misbehaviour until after he’d finished at the school. This wasn’t true, Joe said. He added: even if the school didn’t know, this was only because they’d deliberately turned a blind eye.
After leaving the school where Joe taught, Taylor was employed for two weeks at another school before being asked to leave because of inappropriate behaviour, which included inviting boys back to his room. Taylor was successful in gaining a position at a third school before his history became known and his employment was terminated.
Joe said he learnt in the 2010s that Greg was under investigation for a child sexual assault dating back 30 years. This upset Joe, as Greg was the person he’d trusted in disclosing the Taylor incident several decades earlier. In Joe’s eyes now, Greg had a likely link with Taylor.
Joe told the Commissioner that he thought the school’s culture today was still one where it was hard for child sexual assault to be recognised, reported and properly dealt with.
All staff underwent mandatory reporting training, but it largely consisted of going through a series of slides on a computer. Staff answered the relevant questions before moving on to the next slide. Upon completion, the computer printed a certificate. Occasionally, a speaker came to the school, but Joe didn’t think there were adequate opportunities for a student to report sexual assault or for a teacher to recognise behaviour changes in a student that would indicate trauma.
Although it was better that reporting could now be done outside the school rather than ‘up the line’, Joe said much more work was necessary to understand and recognise the patterns of child sexual abuse. Joe said children were more likely to use social media to communicate than talk to each other or to teachers. He also said more work was needed to include those who weren’t the primary victims but whose lives were still deeply affected by child sexual assault.