• Kristin Perissinotto

Survivor offered zoo pass after disclosing abuse

A Tasmanian single mum of two children reported an alleged sexual abuse on her daughter "Rose" to the public school Rose attends, and received a year-long zoo pass as what could be perceived as a gesture of apology or bribery.

Rose (a pseudonym given by the ABC) told her mother that she was abused multiple times on school grounds by another, older, male student. The family is facing many hardships alongside this, with the mum reporting that both her children are afraid, constantly checking locks, and they are looking at the prospect of homelessness in four weeks, unable to secure another property.

This comes after a review into the Tasmanian public school system found that student-on-student abuse was "significantly more prevalent" than adult-on-student abuse. The results of the recent report seemingly had no impact on the institutions Rose's mum reported the alleged assault to - she told the ABC that she waited ten days for a response from the Education Department after reporting. She also reported to police, who told her that the alleged perpetrator's parents 'refused to allow him to be interviewed,' which indicates the case is unlikely to proceed.

Within one month, the alleged perpetrator was allowed to return to school, and both Rose and her sibling were moved to online school, and the family was offered a year-long family pass to a local zoo. I don't know what to call that other than totally fucked.

Change is made everywhere, but one important place is in schools. This experience shows Rose that the institution doesn't take her allegations seriously, and it shows the alleged perpetrator that he can get away with whatever the fuck he wants. It shows Rose's mother that the education system won't protect her kids, and it shows bystanders who have experienced abuse that speaking up will get them shit all (except a zoo pass if they're lucky).

Rose's mother told the ABC "It's automatic damage control … I was warned the Department of Education's go-to tactic was to gaslight, but I've been in absolute disbelief." Alongside concern for her daughter, she was worried that the alleged perpetrator may have abused other students as well.

Children, and teens, spend a lot of time in school. And while teachers and school staff are often shouldered with an unreasonable burden by the media and greater society (the pandemic brought that issue to the forefront), schools do have the responsibility to protect students from harm. When you begin working at a school in any capacity, you must go through a background check (Blue Cards for non-teachers) and complete training modules, and commit to reporting when things aren't right.

Children are some of our most vulnerable. Rose was seven when she was allegedly abused. Rose and her brother also have intellectual disabilities. Protecting the vulnerable people in our society isn't just something you do because of a mandatory training module, it's an essential part of being in a society. To hear that our government schools, schools funded by our tax dollars, institutions that should, at the very least, be a safe place for children to be, are failing so abysmally makes me equally angry as it does sad.

You probably know, or are, a person who has reported an assault or occurrence of abuse to get a similarly dismissive response. Activists have been fighting for change in this space for decades on decades. Sexual abuse and assault can happen to anyone but disproportionately affects vulnerable groups. Women, children, people of colour, people with disabilities, and people in the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly trans women. If allegations of abuse and assault are dismissed so carelessly in schools, what hope do we have of changing the culture in a meaningful way?