One Thursday evening earlier in the year Olywn was unpacking her son Peter’s school bag and came across an envelope from his Queensland Catholic primary school. Inside was a letter to her from Peter’s Year 1 class teacher.
The letter was brief. In it the teacher said that Peter had approached her at the end of the previous day and told her that his classmate Jonty had spoken to him about private parts. The teacher had spoken to Jonty’s mother and to Jonty, who now knew it was not appropriate to discuss such things at school. ‘Please let me know if you have any concerns’, the letter concluded.
Olwyn did have concerns – especially because when she asked Peter about it, he told her they’d been in the school toilets and Jonty had asked him to lick and kiss his private parts. ‘That made me think “This is not good”’, Olwyn told the Commissioner.
The next day she spoke to the principal. She found his attitude disturbing. He told her he understood kids’ desire to experiment, and said it was not at all surprising in that age group – Peter was six at the time and Jonty was seven. ‘Kiss’ and ‘lick’ is a whole different level, Olwyn pointed out – ‘He said “Don’t make a big deal out of it”, that was his exact words.’
Olwyn then spoke to the teacher, who outlined for her in more detail what had happened. After Peter had talked to her, she’d seen the principal, spoken to Jonty and to Jonty’s mother. Olywn felt she should have been called as well. ‘What concerned me also was that they didn’t sit down with Peter and say “What happened?” That’s what also got to me a lot.’
Overall, there was an absence of process that left Olwyn unhappy. ‘It was almost like, “Please don’t talk about this anymore”’, she said.
Several months passed. Peter didn’t seem himself. Usually sociable and playful, he became withdrawn and clingy. One day he was sick, and Olwyn took the day off work to look after him. He had a shower, and when he was drying off afterwards made an observation about his penis that terrified Olywn: ‘Jonty says it’s small’, he said.
Further questions resulted in more distressing information. Jonty had been ‘licking and kissing’ Peter’s penis. It had happened in the toilets. Jonty had been kneeling in front of Peter. Did you lick and kiss Jonty’s penis? Olwyn asked. Peter said he hadn’t.
‘You have to tell the truth’, Olywn told him. ‘Yes I did’, he replied.
Olwyn took Peter to the police, where they spoke to two officers in the Child Protection Unit. The police visited the school, spoke to the principal and to others. They uncovered several more complaints about Jonty. But in the end there was nothing they could do – Jonty was too young to have any charges pressed against him. The officers told Olywn it was up to the school to decide what should happen next.
But once again, Olwyn got little satisfaction from the principal. He said precautions would be put in place – for instance, Jonty would no longer be allowed to use the boys’ toilets. And teachers would be told to watch him carefully. Confidentiality rules, however, meant teachers couldn’t be told why they had to do that.
Olwyn asked if Jonty could be moved from Peter’s class, or expelled. The principal said this would just be moving the problem elsewhere. He also told Olwyn it was impossible to create a school environment that was 100 per cent safe for children - 90 per cent safe was probably the best they could do.
She was also told, by Peter’s teacher, that as a Catholic school, it was important to practise forgiveness. ‘I said “Okay, I can understand forgiving, but at the same time this child needs help”.’
In the end, Olwyn took Peter out of the school. ‘I made the decision to change schools, and I moved house as well. As soon as he knew he was moving, he was so happy.’
She remains angry and disappointed with the way the problem was handled. Counselling was made available to Peter only after she asked for it; there seemed to be no particular policy or protocol that was followed and no specific action plan put in place to ensure similar incidents didn’t occur again. Better communication with parents to let them know there was an issue in the school and they should talk to their kids about what is and isn’t safe behaviour would also have helped, she said.
In the end Olywn took matters into her own hands and wrote a letter to the parents in Peter’s class, explaining what had happened to him.
‘I said I felt Peter went along with this the second time because nothing was done the first time when he brought it to someone’s attention. And that’s what frustrates me so badly.’