HUNTER students have shared accounts of alleged sexual assaults, as part of a campaign calling on schools to start discussing consent earlier in the curriculum.
Activist Chanel Contos has set up a website that has a petition and allows students to post anonymous testimonies, including about alleged assaults.
Most of the more than 2000 testimonies are from students who claim they attended single-sex private schools in Sydney.
But some are from people who claim to be former students of Mount View High at Cessnock, Callaghan College Jesmond campus, Morisset High, Belmont High, St Clare's High Taree, Newcastle Grammar and Scone Grammar.
The Newcastle Herald has been unable to substantiate the testimonies due to their anonymous nature.
Allegations in these testimonies include being sexually assaulted by three male peers from the same school; an assault by two males stopping only after their friend walked in; male students secretly filming female peers during sex; and being assaulted while unconscious.
"I never pressed charges as I felt I was at fault for a long time due to not fully understanding consent and sex and how this impacted me," one student wrote. "If consent and the influence alcohol and drugs has on consent had been taught properly in our school this rape may not have occurred."
On this issue: NSW police meets with schools on consent
Another student said their perpetrator didn't know they had committed assault: "He didn't understand that my inability to say no did not mean yes."
NSW Police said on Friday it had met with representatives from the NSW Department of Education, Association of Independent Schools and Catholic Schools NSW.
"A commitment was made to establish a statement of intent to address the issue of sexual violence within NSW schools," it said.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said it had detailed advice for staff with child protection concerns, including reference to mandatory notification and referral to other agencies' support.
"Students are explicitly taught about consent through the curriculum in an age-appropriate way from kindergarten through to year 12," he said.
"Respectful relationships education is included in the... K-10 syllabus for all students and in Life Ready, which is a mandatory 25-hour course that all department schools implement across years 11 and/or 12."
The spokesman said consent was "more explicitly written into" the new mandatory Personal Development, Health and Physical Education [PDHPE] kindergarten to year 10 syllabus, launched in 2018.
Also on this issue: Students want broader sex education and lessons on consent
"We expect this more explicit focus to generate more respect and understanding around this subject."
He said "cultural shift depends on strong leadership, both culturally and educationally, within the school and community".
Newcastle Grammar head of school Erica Thomas said the education community had been "understandably shocked" by students' allegations.
"The issue of consent is taught as part of the PDHPE syllabus for year 7 and 8 and reinforced in years 9 and 10," she said.
"Other activities during the year promote healthy and respectful relationships, safe partying and the dangers of alcohol/ drugs."
Ms Thomas said she encouraged past and present students who had experienced assault to speak out and contact police.
"Our school's value of respect is the basis of all interactions at the school," she said.
"Both young men and women are encouraged to interact respectfully with each other and speak out against any inappropriate behaviour.
"As a co-educational school, we strive to provide an environment of normalisation in gender relationships. This is an important conversation in our community."
Scone Grammar School principal Paul Smart said the school was "committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of each student".
"We take very seriously our role in helping students develop age-appropriate values and ethical systems," he said.
"Our community is rightly focused on the education that students receive about human sexuality and power.
"In partnership with the other Anglican schools in the region, we have begun our review of curriculum and content to empower our students as they develop significant and meaningful relationships."
He said staff were often the first to see indications of harm and were able to provide professional and pastoral support.
"We encourage students if they have been the victim of a sexual assault to come forward and speak out.
"We are committed to making mandatory reports and working closely with all relevant agencies."
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle director of schools Gerard Mowbray said the diocese "strives for continuous improvement" in all its activities and ensured improvements were "in alignment with best practice and supported by strong policy and practices, and not reactionary".
He said it took safeguarding young people seriously.
"With assistance from the Office of Safeguarding, our schools' response to allegations of abuse is timely, supportive of the victim, procedurally fair to the alleged abuser and proportionate to the alleged conduct."
He said the office gave a pre-scheduled presentation to school leadership staff on Thursday about understanding and responding to peer-on-peer sexual assault.
He said the diocese had a policy framework and training approach that helped students and staff be sensitive and supportive around issues of consent.
- Lifeline 13 11 14.
- 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732
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