Children and teenagers spend most of the day at school where they deserve to feel safe. Students are in a vulnerable position at school, being in the care, supervision and control of teachers and education support staff such as aides, counsellors and other employees. Sadly, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse revealed many children have suffered from sexual and physical abuse in Victorian schools. Perpetrators are highly manipulative, using a variety of techniques to groom students over a period of time, to control children and to try to stop them from disclosing the abuse.
Teachers and staff at public, private, and boarding schools have a duty of care to take all reasonable precautions to reduce the risk of child abuse being committed by individuals associated with the school. This duty is non – delegable and applies to principals, teachers and all other staff working with children and extending to all interactions at schools and events off campus, including excursions, camps, sporting activities, competitions, music performances, tutoring and other interactions beyond school hours.
Schools have a responsibility to take reasonable care to reduce the risk of physical and sexual abuse. This can include, for example:
- Completing background checks during recruitment of staff, volunteers and student teachers including Criminal Record Checks and Working with Children Checks;
- Ensuring adequate supervision of teachers and other staff at all times;
- Undertaking risk assessments;
- Complying with existing policies and procedures;
- Investigating and responding promptly and thoroughly to any complaints and allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
In addition, all Victorian schools must abide by the 11 compulsory minimum Child Safe Standards and comply with mandatory reporting obligations. These reporting obligations require teachers and other staff to make a report to Child Protection (the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing) as soon as reasonably practicable, upon forming a belief on reasonable grounds, that a child is in need of protection from physical injury or sexual abuse.
Children who are victim – survivors of physical and sexual abuse may be entitled to bring a compensation claim against the school and/or the perpetrator of the abuse. The team of local lawyers at Fortitude Legal are experienced in representing victim – survivors and have successfully obtained compensation for students who have been abused in educational settings.
Parents and students who are affected by child abuse can contact the following organisations for support:
- National Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Helpline: Phone: 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
- Bravehearts Victoria: Phone: 1800 272 831
- Lifeline: Phone: 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue: Phone: 1300 22 4636
- Victoria Police – Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT): Ballarat phone: 4372 9095
- Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA): Phone (business hours): 03 5320 3933 . Phone (after hours): 1800 806 292
- Bendigo Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA): 5441 0430
- The Sexual Assault & Family Violence Centre Geelong :5222 4318
If you would like to have a confidential chat with our expert lawyers, please contact your local team at Fortitude Legal who will handle your enquiry sensitively, discretely and confidentially.