Sydney private school students’ allegations of sexual assault in online petition ‘extremely concerning’

The NSW Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor says an online petition in which hundreds of former female students have shared their experiences of being sexually assaulted by private school boys is "extremely concerning".

Warning: This article contains reports of sexual assaults that may distress some readers.

The petition, started by former Kambala student Chanel Contos because she "was sick of constantly hearing my friends' experience of sexual abuse", calls for a bigger focus on consent in sexual education and a focus on single-sex private schools.

Ms Taylor said it was her daughter who brought the issue to her attention.

"As a mother of girls, it is very concerning to me. It was actually my eldest daughter who said to me, 'Mum you really need to have a look at this [petition],'" she said.

"If young women are saying that this is an issue, we need to listen to them and we need to make sure we are there to support them and they feel they can call out this behaviour but also provide education to young men that this is simply not OK, not normal."

Ms Taylor referenced events surrounding former federal Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins and her allegations of being raped by a senior colleague inside a ministerial office.

"If there is one really strong message here, and I think we have heard that message very strongly this week, if you are brave enough to put up your hand and say something is happening, we need to listen and we need to make sure the supports are available so firstly that you feel you can, but the most important thing is that we need to prevent this happening in the first place.

"[It is] an issue that can happen across all schools — public and private."

'I ran home without my shorts'

Twenty-two-year-old Ms Contos has been overwhelmed by the response to the petition, with 2,300 people signing it to date and 200 young women sharing their stories.

"I have lived in three different countries and I have never spoken to anyone who has experienced rape culture the way me and my friends had growing up in Sydney amongst private schools," Ms Contos said.

Experiences of unwanted sex with older boys, being forced to perform oral sex, waking up in bed naked and multiple instances of abuse were common themes in the anonymous testimonies shared by victims.

Ms Contos says the allegations, which have not been independently verified, highlight why "students need to be taught about consent to keep them safe during and soon after school".

A student who attended St Catherine's school in 2015 told of her shock at waking up drunk in the bed of a private school male student five years her senior.

"I woke up so drunk in his bed with him penetrating me at a party with another couple having sex in the same room," she wrote.

"I ran home without my shorts. He returned them the next week."

A student at Willoughby Girls High School wrote of her experiences of being raped at a party in 2019.

"He and I started hooking up, then he started taking things further and I begged him to stop but things escalated and he raped me. It then happened again later with another guy at the same party.

"The same thing happened again at a Halloween party and I blame myself for it every day. Unfortunately it continued with this boy for three months until I was put into the hospital."

The issue of consent and young males "not knowing what he did was assault" featured prominently in many of the accounts.

A 17-year-old student from Newcastle Grammar School wrote about an incident in 2019 saying: "He didn't understand that my inability to say 'no' did not mean 'yes'. I didn't want it."

For many female students, their alleged abuse took place at parties and they only found out about it "after seeing photos". The women talk of feeling betrayed by friends who either committed the abuse or failed to stop it.

"Worst part is I remembered none of it, the boys who were my so called friends didn't stop it … I am not alone, stories like this were normalised in high school," wrote a student from Monte Sant' Angelo Mercy College.

Another student from Manly wrote: "I am still furious that I was consistently told that I shouldn't have gone to an isolated location with a guy. He had been my best friend. If I'm not meant to spend time with just my best friend, what am I meant to do?"

The ABC has contacted the schools for comment.

The Association of Independent Schools declined to make a statement.