It should come as no surprise in the lastest Four Corners exposé of the St Kevin’s sex offender case, people in power care more about their reputation than the health and wellbeing of their students.
In the past, Australia has scored poor when it comes to institutional support for sex crime victims, especially when it comes to students. A Royal Commission into sexual assaults on Australian Universities found that universities as prestigious as Sydney University were ‘actively covering up’ sexual abuse and assault cases.
In an End Rape on Campus survey ‘Connecting the Dots’ found universities failed to support claims of sexual assult, silenced victims, provided no resources, and often sided with the perpetrator. The survey found in the last 5 years there was 500 official complaints of sexual assault and only 6 official explusions. The survey also reported students felt universities did not take the complaints seriously, with no follow up and were even denied.
However, after the survey findings universities were swift to act. Universities Australia partnered with campaigns such as End Rape on Campus, Respect.Now.Always., and implemented compulsory consent training modules on university platforms to tackle the problem.
But the Catholic Church is slow to reform. In the abhorrent case that was Cardinal Pell, who allegedly abused 13 children and who was unanimously convicted on 5 counts of sexual assault, we see power protecting power over again.
Pell, a senior member in the Catholic Church was defended by his brothers, granted asylum in the Vatican, and even defended by a dazzling character reference by our former Prime Minister John Howard.
And now we see it again in the St Kevin’s College grooming case. In 2015, former sports St Kevin’s sport coach Peter Kehoe was convicted for the grooming of a 14 year old boy Paris Street. Kehoe’s behaviour towards Mr Street was disturbing, with a series of inappropriate Facebook messages telling Street he loved him. Kehoe imposed himself sexually telling Street he at an erection at practice, and asked Street if he knew what “pre-cum” is.
Kehoe’s behaviour became increasingly intense, inviting Mr Street to his home and bedroom, telling Street he was free to come into his bed “any time he liked.” Mr Street, 15 at the time of trial, was extremely distressed by the incident and Mr Street and his mother went to police. Kehoe was convicted and sentenced to a community corrections order and 8 years on a sex offenders registry.
Yet the handling of the case, exposed 3 years later by Four Corners, reflects the insidious nature of cover up culture. Street’s mother was appalled by the school’s conduct through the case. When the Street’s mother inquired into Kehoe, St Kevin’s headmaster, Stephen Russell defended Kehoe as a good guy and teacher.
During the trial the St Kevin’s College Russell and sports dean Luke Travers both gave evidence in defence for Kehoe. Street’s mother was shocked at the blatant ignorance of the school.
“It is quite extraordinary that a headmaster and a dean of sport in particular will basically disregard the vulnerable student and support an offender. I mean, what planet are we on?” she said.
Since the expose, St Kevin’s has had further allegations of two male teachers grooming students, with the school attempting to quash any further action. Teacher Maree Keel alleged she was silenced after she flagged inappropriate teacher conduct to staff.
“Ms Keel alleges she was mistreated after raising concerns about the behaviour of a St Kevin’s staff member,” law firm Maurice Blackburn said.
Travers, claims he felt obligated to defend Kehoe because he “was his friend.”
Since Four Corners, Mr Russell has resigned saying he deeply regretted the decision to support Kehoe.
It is stark these cases reflect a culture of silence and complicity. Where reputation and solidarity comes over student care and wellbeing. These affected students are left to take their stories to the media in hopes to raise awareness and make a change to the toxic culture. It took a Four Corners exposé and Royal Commission for both universities and schools to take action.
Russell resigning is only one small step forward in institutional accountability.
Hopefully in the future, students will be protected, not the reputations of its superiors.