In 2014, several of Jay’s Year 7 friends mentioned that Mr Blake, the sports master, had ‘felt’ them.
‘I thought it was very strange’, Jay said. ‘I knew that Mr Blake had a very good relationship with those boys – he liked them a lot. They would talk a lot with Mr Blake and joke around with him and everything, and apparently they used to go on runs with him and stuff.
'Apparently – I’m not sure. I couldn’t really believe it, but then I thought, "They can’t be lying about something like that". That’s not something you lie about. I thought, "I better tell my mum".
'Then I told them I was going to tell my mum and they said, “Yeah, that’s good”. Then it all got sorted out.’
That night Jay told his mother, Leigh, what the boys had said. ‘I was just kind of doing it to help my friend really. I didn’t think of it, as in me doing it, as such a big thing. I definitely thought of what he did as a big thing, but I didn’t really think it was that much. If it happened again I would definitely do it because that’s just what my parents have taught me.’
Leigh recounted the conversation to Jay’s father who recommended they call the police. ‘I initially disagreed’, Jay said. ‘I thought maybe we should tell the school first because I didn’t want to hurt the school’s reputation, maybe it could be dealt with in the school via the teacher. Then I thought, "Oh no, we should go to the police".’
Leigh thought of calling the school first, but knew she’d made the right decision when Queensland Police acted swiftly. The school’s response was also impressive, she said. After Blake was charged, he was immediately sacked from the school.
The principal sent a text message and an email to parents informing them of events and called an assembly of students and parents to discuss the matter. He put into practice the school’s child protection and traumatic events policies, and thoroughly briefed all teachers.
The school counsellor was supported by external specialists and met with students, teachers and parents. The principal also congratulated Jay privately for the courage he’d shown in reporting the abuse.
Jay told the Commissioner that he’d learnt from Year 4 classes with the school counsellor to tell someone if you were in trouble. He said he’d been told that if something was going wrong it was best to tell someone. ‘You need five people you can talk to’, he said. Students were told this could include the counsellor, their parents, teachers, the police or the kids’ helpline.
Leigh said Blake’s abuse sent shockwaves through the school community. No one except the principal and the boys who’d disclosed the abuse knew that Jay had reported Blake, but she worried that it might be found out. Most people responded with the safety of their sons uppermost in mind, however one family in particular refused to believe it.
‘Some families are very strong Catholics’, Leigh said. ‘One family were very hostile and said it didn’t happen. They said, “He’s been to our house so many times and he’s great with our kids”.’ The mother in that family tried to ring other parents and tell them not to talk to police.
One of the difficulties parents had, Leigh said, was reconciling their belief that doing sport was good for boys ‘to run them ragged’, with the actions of one abuser. The response of the principal had reassured them though, and reinforced everyone’s sense of safety.
‘When [the principal] spoke at the assembly there was a real openness in what he said’, Leigh said. ‘It was very authentic – you could see there was a genuineness because there was an action behind it. So when he said the children were the most important, there was something behind it.’
She was reassured that school staff hadn’t tried to deny or distance themselves from what had happened. ‘It was seamless, there was no panic’, she said.
Leigh said it was difficult to separate a system from an individual, but the principal’s leadership drove the system’s response. ‘When that combines, it’s a perfect situation. I just think the way he shapes his members under him too, in terms of the opportunities he gives his staff for leadership, reflects through to the boys as well … His leadership flows through the school.’