Sarah Ruth's story

Sarah’s daughter Rina went to a small, Jewish primary school. There weren’t many children in her year, and just a handful of girls. In Year 5, a girl called Asher started to dominate and threaten the others in the class. When the girls complained to their teacher, Ms Green, Asher would lie and the other girls would get into trouble.

They realised there was no point telling anyone because Asher manipulated the situation so cleverly. The bullying continued – Asher hit a Year 2 girl, who Rina then defended. Asher told Rina to ‘shut up’ and reported her to the school captain, saying that Rina herself was now in trouble. Rina reported the incident to Ms Green, who ignored her. Asher went on to twist one girl’s arm and push dirt into another’s mouth.

Rina decided that writing to Mrs Piper, the principal, was the best course of action, so she did and encouraged the other girls to do the same. Ms Green got hold of the email and told Sarah that what her daughter had done was highly inappropriate. But to Sarah, the email was a cry for help. She outlined the bullying in a letter to Mrs Piper, who replied that Rina didn’t have to talk to Asher if she didn’t want to. So Rina stopped talking to Asher, which led to the other bullied girls ostracising Rina. So then Rina caved in and the group tension increased.

Sarah wrote twice more to Mrs Piper, pleading for help to resolve the situation. Mrs Piper said she’d deal with it the following term. Sarah said ‘you need to do something now’ but the principal again said no. Rina wrote to Mrs Piper as well.

The following term the school arranged counselling for Rina and Asher, using a counsellor who had been seeing Asher one-on-one.

Another mother contacted the school about the bullying. The school said they were aware of it.

At the end of term, Rina told her mother that Asher had been squeezing her breasts. Rina had told Ms Green, whose first question was, had Rina told her parents? Rina said no. Ms Green said, ‘I’m sure she didn’t mean it. I’m sure it was just an accident’. And sent her on her way.

When Asher touched Rina again, she told Ms Green, but this time got her friends to help demonstrate what Asher had done. Ms Green said, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re constantly targeting Asher. This is inappropriate behaviour’.

At which point Rina told her mum. Sarah worked out that Asher’s abuse of Rina had happened about 10 times. Sarah wrote to the principal saying, ‘If you’d addressed my issues it wouldn’t have escalated to sexual assault. But it has’. Mrs Piper replied that she would attend to this as one of her priorities that week.

‘And that was it’, Sarah said.

She continued to raise her concerns with several teachers via email. She cc’ed the president of the school board with no response.

Finally, at ‘the worst meeting I’ve ever attended in my life’, the school refused to talk about Asher on confidentiality grounds. They also wouldn’t discuss how the bullying escalated to sexual abuse.

A representative from an independent schools organisation told Sarah, ‘If you choose to keep your children at the school … you have to understand it is up to the school if they choose to investigate something. If they choose to investigate something they don’t have to tell you, they will not tell you the outcome or how it’s been resolved. You just have to trust the school and you are not to go to any external bodies. You are not to talk with any of the parents or any of the Jewish community or anyone at the synagogue’.

Sarah went on to report the incident to various government bodies, including the education minister. The police spoke to the school and interviewed Rina, but she felt uncomfortable speaking to them and in the end they were unable to prosecute Asher.

The police asked Mrs Piper why she hadn’t reported it. The principal said she didn’t know she needed to.

Asher was made a prefect, despite the school knowing about her history and the police investigation. Sarah doesn’t understand why the school protected Asher and not Rina.

‘I found holes in the law that don’t protect my daughter’, she told the Commissioner. ‘I found holes in government bodies that are supposed to protect children in the private school sector, that don’t.’

Rina is now going to another school. It’s a long commute but Sarah says it’s the first time they’ve seen her leave school with a smile on her face.

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