While in Year 5 and 6 at his Uniting Church private school north of Sydney, Rudy had two of the best years of his life. However, when he moved from the junior to the senior school, he noticed that the culture was blokey or macho, and that bullying among the students was rife. He felt that he had to be on guard all the time.
In the 2010s, when Rudy was in Year 8, he went away on a two-week school excursion. On the last night of the trip, he was attacked by several older students who dragged him to a room and jumped on top of him. While Rudy was on the floor, and trying to catch his breath, the instigator of the attack, Lyle Jennings, simulated a sex act by ‘dry humping’ Rudy while another student took photos. Jennings then dragged Rudy into a bathroom, held him face down in the toilet and urinated on the back of his head.
Distressed and crying, Rudy returned to his own bed to find his mattress gone. A teacher, Mr Herbert, saw him lying on the bare bed boards and asked what was wrong. After Rudy described the attack, Herbert found some boys - but not Jennings - and forced them to apologise. He told Rudy that he believed they’d jumped on him and taken a photograph, but not that he’d been urinated on. Rudy asked to ring his parents but was told that it was too late.
When Ruby later told his parents about the assault, they were extremely upset. For weeks they rang and wrote to the school but heard nothing back, and over the next six months they were met with delays, denials and a cursory investigation that found the boys innocent. At one stage, the deputy headmaster said that Rudy had invented the story. Rudy’s mother pointed to the school’s bullying policy that stated if a boy made a complaint the school would accept his allegation of bullying. The next time she looked the statement had been removed from the school’s policy.
Rudy, who felt humiliated in the wake of the abuse, and didn’t want to draw attention to himself, felt upset that his parents had made these complaints to the school. This led to some conflict within the family.
Later that year, and with encouragement from his parents, Rudy reported the assault to police. However, the experience didn’t really help him. ‘The constable dude, he was like, no emotion - This big chubby dude half focused on me and half on the computer, and he said, “Yep, yep, yep, we’ll look into it”. From my knowledge they tried the very minimum and even then the school led them in circles, so they kind of went “Who cares?” It wasn’t straightforward, it wasn’t police work. I didn’t expect a lot and I didn’t get a lot.’
Rudy left this private school at the end of Year 8. Although his current school has its own set of problems, he is presently studying for his HSC, and prefers being in an environment that is co-ed and doesn’t focus so heavily on appearances.
Rudy said that his previous school ‘tries to put out this anti-bullying thing, but it’s like you open the door to a mansion to find a pigsty. A hundred per cent propaganda is what they put out. All of this is managed by the people at the top of the pyramid and they don’t ever look down at the people beneath them. It’s all the theory. And then the people beneath them don’t really care either. The only people who really care are the teachers who are either new or have some good morals. And a mix of students who care and don’t care. The school say it’s an amazing school, but it’s all marketing.’
Rudy also said he was distressed by the assault, but being disbelieved, ignored and shamed by the school hierarchy was worse. ‘I think to some extent it has changed my perception of the world. But not by the actions. The actions were bad but they weren’t terrible … The thing that really changed was, you feel very secure, you’re in a dome of protectiveness, and then all of a sudden you’re outside of the dome and the only way to get back in is to put this stuff behind you, and I didn’t really want to do that, I wanted to resolve the issue. And they’re like, “If you want to get back in the dome you have to put it behind”. In one second that whole school backing and the perception that everyone’s there to help you crumbles away.’
Rudy said the boys’ school put a lot of resources into protecting its reputation rather than acknowledging problems. ‘They’ve got into the mindset of instead of improving things - as in fixing mistakes and problems - they feel like if they spend time to do that they’ll be behind other schools so they’re throwing that into a pit and putting dirt over it, and then trying to build from there not realising how shaky the ground is, but they’re doing it anyway.
‘The problem with that is they could spend half as much money to fix the problems as covering it. …They’re scared I guess of what they’ll unearth. They’re still getting an influx of parents who are taken in by the propaganda. They’re shown around this flashy, huge school and they can’t connect this flashy school where kids all look perfect and everything seems to be going well with the pigsty that it’s accused of, because on the dates they have people coming in, [the rules] are strict.’
‘I’d say of my year of 250 about 25 were in the same boat as me. The rest were, “I don’t care” or else they must have an extraordinary experience of the school … You can only say about your experience. Everyone is different. You can have 200 people have a great experience, whilst the people who have this stuff and start to question see it for what it is.’
The assault and the reaction of the school changed Rudy. ‘I never put too much faith in somebody ... Not that I don’t trust them, but [it’s] not, “He will do that”, [it’s more like], “He will probably do that”, kind of thing. It has made me pessimistic. It’s, I would say - and this is kind of contradictory - I’m no longer naive.’
Rudy’s father, who also attended a private session at the Royal Commission, said he wanted to see schools made more accountable and not left to follow up allegations of sexual assault themselves. ‘What happened wasn’t transparent’, he said. ‘It followed no real process other than denial. It was extremely injurious to the child and no safeguards were followed. It was perfunctory at best … If someone does something wrong it doesn’t matter, because they’ve got a waiting list of two years.’
‘I’d like to see something like a five star rating [system], particularly for private schools and it should be federally administered. Compulsory reporting and the five stars should link to funding so if you lose a star it’s like your licence and it takes you three years to get it back … There’s got to be accountability and it’s got to be visible, and it’s not at the moment.’