Teachers and other staff members sexually abused young boys at an exclusive Australian preparatory school for more than three decades, according to recently surfaced details laid out this month at a royal commission hearing.
The details reveal that dozens of boys were sexually abused, mainly by teachers over a 33-year period spanning from 1970 to 2003.
The Knox Grammar School in Wahroonga, New South Wales, has been accused of covering up the abuse while harboring “a large pedophile cohort.” In one case, the headmaster of the school gave a “glowing” review of a teacher who had been dismissed over allegations of inappropriate contact with two boys in 1989.
In another instance, staffers erected a memorial near the entrance of the school for an art teacher who had been accused of molesting students. The plaque, which has since been removed, included the words: “He touched us all.”
“The fact that he was so well-regarded by the school, despite being a notorious molester, made me feel very confused a powerless,” former student and victim Scott Ashton, now 44, told the commission this week. Ashton said he was abused so much that he wondered whether it was normal for teachers to assault him while he was on the playground.
“The entire episode was completely open and brazen, and occurred on the playground in front of the entire school community,” he told the commission. “What especially confused me was that it seemed open and normal in the context of the Knox environment. It was so common I wasn’t sure it was wrong for teachers to touch me like that.”
He said the experience left him “appalled, confused and distressed.”
Five former Knox Grammar teachers have been convicted of sex offenses known to have taken place during their time at the school, although the commission has heard testimony that suggests the problem is far worse than once thought.
Commissioners heard from teachers and students who claimed the school knew about instances of abuse over the course of decades, but did nothing to prevent it. The school failed to notify police when it heard allegations of inappropriate conduct, which meant some pedophile teachers and staff have never faced prosecution. In some cases, the school “moved” teachers “around to get them out of the way, without actually dealing with the core issues or addressing any of the problems” of sex abuse, according to former student Matthew O’Neal.
Geoffrey Watson, an attorney for Knox Grammar, said the school has accepted that what took place over the span of three decades was disturbing and that there “is no excuse” for the abuse.
“The school owed a primary responsibility to those student and to those parents to keep them safe from this sort of thing,” Watson said at the hearing. “The school humbly and sincerely apologizes for its failure.”
Students are dismissing the apology as forced.
“I don’t believe it was an apology,” said victim Adrian Steer. “It came from a lawyer. It didn’t come from the school themselves.”
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.