A young woman who sparked a national conversation about Australia’s sexual assault crisis within schools believes single-sex education fosters unhealthy interactions between teenagers.
Kambala School alumni Chanel Contos, 22, launched a petition demanding students be taught about consent on February 18 after reflecting on her own sexual assault as a youth.
The petition rapidly went viral, with thousands of girls from both private and state schools across the nation since coming forward to share their own experiences.
While the alarming stories hailed from all sorts of institutions, several of Australia’s top same-sex schools’ names were repeatedly mentioned- including Scots College, Cranbrook, Sydney Grammar, Waverley College, Kambala, Monte Sant Angelo and Pymble Ladies’ College.
Former Kambala student Chanel Contos, 22, (pictured) started the petition when she realised last year she and her friend were both sexually assaulted by the same person as teenagers
Ms Contos believes this is not a coincidence and segregating boys and girls for learning is leading to problematic sexual encounters.
‘In Australia, we’re in a very weird position on this because single-sex schools are way more prevalent than in other countries, she told news.com.au.
‘Because they are separated at school, it means the only time they do meet is on weekends – when there is often alcohol and drugs involved.’
Ms Contos, who has lived in three other countries, said she has spoken to hundreds of people from around the world about rape culture in their nation but none compare to the experiences she and her friends endured growing up.
Although rape culture is problematic across the globe, Ms Contos the situation in Australia was ‘frustrating’ given the country’s affluence and ability to direct resources into tackling the issue.
She called for greater education in schools about consent and for institutions to address toxic cultures like ‘slut-shaming’ in girls’ schools and ‘locker room talk’ in boys schools.
Several of Australia’s top same-sex schools’ were repeatedly mentioned among the disturbing testimonies, including Scots College (pictured), Cranbrook, Sydney Grammar, Waverley College, Kambala, Monte Sant Angelo and Pymble Ladies’ College
The former student’s observation that Australia has a disproportionate amount of single-sex schools compared to other nations was backed by Professor Mary Louise Rasmussen, an expert in gender, sexuality and education.
Professor Rasmussen, who teaches at the Australian National University, said the reason they are so prevalent is because the Federal Government has placed major investment in non-government schools.
Although it is difficult to measure the impact of segregating teenagers based on sex, she said toxic cultures have been observed within single-sex institutions.
‘There are problems with sexual assault and consent at all schools in Australia, but what we can see from the large amount of anecdotal evidence over the years that there appears to be a problem, particularly at all-boys schools where students are rewarded for being a ‘stud’,’ Prof Rasmussen said.
With a spotlight being cast over the issue this week, Professor Rasmussen said the publicity provides the ideal opportunity for education about consent to be introduced in Australian schools.
Hundreds of girls who attended Sydney private schools has claimed they were sexually assaulted and raped by private school boys. Pictured: Chanel Contos is calling for better sex education
As girls across the nation shared their disturbing accounts this week, one horrifying theme emerged – most of their alleged rapists were their boyfriends or close male friends.
RAPE AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN AUSTRALIA
– There were 374 juvenile sexual assault cases reported in NSW in 2020.
– Chanel Contos gathered thousands of rape and sexual assault testimonies from private schoolgirls.
– About 38 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 have experienced sexual harassment.
– 66 per cent of 14-year-old boys have been exposed to sexual material within the last 12 months.
– 72 per cent of children between 14 and 17 have been exposed to porn in the past six months.
– About one in five Australian women have experienced sexual violence.
– Only 28 per cent, or 14,994 cases, of alleged rape victims come forward in NSW.
– Only three per cent of rapes reported to NSW Police in 2018/19 ended in a conviction.
– About 346 cases were withdrawn.
Source: ABS and NSW Police
Many anonymously revealed they lost their virginity to their rapists – who went to elite Sydney boys’ schools including The King’s School, St Ignatius College Riverview, and Cranbrook – while they slept, or were too drunk to consent.
One girl wrote that she was a 15-year-old virgin in 2016 when she met her first boyfriend who had a ‘rape fetish’, and assaulted her repeatedly throughout their relationship.
‘On our first date I told him I didn’t even want to kiss and he forced one on me… later he coerced me into losing my virginity before the legal age, which I insisted I did not want to do,’ she said.
The student, from Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College in North Sydney, claimed the Cranbrook boy ‘manipulated’ and ‘forced’ her into having sex on countless occasions, or would rape her when she was asleep or too drunk to say no.
Eventually, he told her about his ‘rape fetish’, and joked with his friends at a party about gang raping her.
Another victim, from Kincoppal in Rose Bay, said her first boyfriend went to catholic boys boarding school Saint Ignatius College Riverview and was ‘obsessed’ with taking her virginity.
She felt pressured into sex and was worried he wouldn’t like her anymore if she refused.
‘I had been assaulted before and while he was trying to push himself inside me I started having flashbacks and crying,’ the girl said.
He only stopped because she was ‘sobbing too hard’.
A teenage girl from St Catherine’s said her ex boyfriend from Moriah College often touched her body without asking and eventually ‘coerced’ her into sex, despite saying no ‘literally 20 times’
‘I was overwhelmed and confused, but surely it must have been fine, because he was my first love,’ she wrote.
‘It hurt so much that I shouted in pain, but he carried on, and said ‘that was it’ when he felt my hymen ‘break’.’
Ms Contos (pictured) said she hopes the petition will bring change to sexuality education to students across Australia
Chantel Contos’ petition now has signatures from close to 7,000 former and current school students across Australia
The girl said one of her school friends was also raped by a boy who she considered to be her best friend.
Another St Catherine’s student said she woke up in complete darkness in 2017 to find her boyfriend ‘inside me’, despite telling him earlier that she was too tired.
‘I rarely said no to sex, so he continued to ask. Eventually, sometime after I had fallen asleep, he started touching me. When I opened my eyes to find him inside of me, I felt sick,’ she wrote.
A victim from Kambala said her boyfriend forced her into anal sex while she was drunk on her 18th birthday, ‘despite screaming no and yelling in pain’.
She said he manipulated her into feeling as though she had done something wrong, adding that she only realised it was rape years later.
One girl from Kincoppal said she had been dating her boyfriend, an ex Riverview student, for 11 months when she got ‘really drunk’ in 2020.
Ms Contos said Kambala High School (pictured) gave her a ‘great consent education but they gave it too late’
SCHOOL RESPONSES TO THE PETITION
St Catherine’s School
Headmistress Dr Julie Townsend said the testimonials were ‘heartbreaking’.
‘It is clear from these girls’ testimonies that many of them have suffered in silence for years, and we need to ensure that, not only do they understand what assault is, but know their rights in reporting it and charging someone,’ she said.
Principal Shane Hogan said he will give information to parents about consent and respectful relationships.
‘[We are] commending the bravery of the young women to call out this behaviour and calling on any Kambala girls or old girls who have experienced this to contact us to access our on campus counselling support and support,.’
Principal Nicholas Sampson said schools ‘need to take further action’ and pledged to review of the school’s pastoral care, including holding mixed gender education programs.
‘All of us at Cranbrook need to be grateful for the courage of these young women in speaking out,’ he wrote, linking to the petition. ‘Society makes it very hard to raise issues of this type.’
Saint Ignatius’ College Riverview
Principal Dr Paul Hine said the school ‘fully supports’ the allegations against students being referred to the police.
‘Non-consensual sex is a crime and this message is given unequivocally to our students as part of their education,’ he said.
The Scots College
Dr Ian Lambert, wrote to parents and said the school would review its education programs.
‘It is a wake-up call for us all,’ he said. ‘They are to be commended for their bravery in standing up and speaking out.
Source: Daily Mail Australia and The Guardian
While the couple often engaged sexually, they hadn’t had penetrative sex because she wanted to remain a virgin.
‘We had spoken about it at length,’ she said.
‘He proceeded to do it in the shower and I woke lying on the shower floor realising what had happened.’
The morning after, he said: ‘I know I didn’t rape you, because I did a sexual consent course at university and what I did was not rape.’
He broke up with her two months later.
Ms Contos’ petition now thousands of testimonies from woman aged between 13 to 50-years-old from across Australia. Pictured: Testimonies from victims
Testimonials on the petition have accused unnamed students from Sydney’s most exclusive all-boy schools, including St Ignatius Riverview (pictured)
Chanel Contos started the petition because she was sexually abused at the age of 13.
She was forced to give oral sex to a boy when she was in Year 8, but did not realise she had been raped or learn about consent until she attended a sex consent class in Year 10 that was presented by a former police officer.
‘I was sexually abused and I also found out last year when I was talking with my friends that the same person who did it to me did it to another one of my friends,’ she told The Project on Tuesday.
The now 22-year-old said she couldn’t sleep the night she found out and felt as though she could have stopped it but she didn’t realise at the time that it was wrong.
‘I just felt anger – why didn’t I know it was wrong? Why couldn’t I stop that?,’ she said.
Ms Contos previously told Daily Mail Australia she ‘knew that something had to be done’.
At least 1,500 former students have signed the petition or shared stories of their own alleged assaults. Pictured: Chantel Contos, who said she was forced to perform oral sex on a boy
Chanel Contos’ petition nearly has 7,000 signatures from men and women across Australia
‘The realisation you’ve been sexually assaulted, it’s a hard thing to go through’.
Ms Contos said despite her school giving her a ‘great consent education, they gave it too late.’
‘A lot of people are already sexually active by 15 or 16, and you need to have this consent training before you become sexually active’, she said.
‘People who have contacted me have said they received no consent sexual education, especially boys schools said that it was minimal to none.’
Ms Contos’ petition now has thousands of testimonies from woman aged between 13 to 50-years-old from across Australia.
Chantel Contos (pictured) is calling for schools to provide consent sexual education to students from a young age
Her former school Kambala has reached out to her following the petition and asked her to work with them to help them teach consent to young students.
It is estimated one in five Australian women have experienced sexual violence, but only 28 per cent of alleged rape victims come forward in NSW.
Of the incidents reported to NSW Police in 2018/19, only about three per cent ended in a guilty conviction.
If the sexual assault charges make it to court, 34 per cent result in a guilty conviction, according to 2018/19 data provided to the Law Reform Commission.
If this story has raised issues for you, please contact 1800 Respect 1800 737 732, Lifeline 13 11 14, beyondblue 1300 224 636, Domestic Violence Line 1800 65 64 63