Published: 24 February 2020
Author: Ian Dallas
St Kevin’s shows that abuse cover-ups continue
Sadly, the expose by the ABC’s Four Corners program of the mishandling of sexual abuse issues at St Kevin’s College, has come as no surprise to advocates and survivors of child sexual abuse.
The reality that has been exposed, is a failure to give the highest priority to the welfare of children within the care of the school. Instead, the school authorities have protected the reputation of the school as a business above all else.
The program revealed the difficulties faced by the student, Paris Street, in making his claim, which was made at the same time that the Royal Commission was running its inquiry. A disturbing aspect of the story is that the pupil’s mother raised her concerns about Kehoe at an early stage with the Headmaster, but he reassured her that Kehoe was a person of good character and she had nothing to worry about. Of course, this was quite wrong.
Comforted by the headmaster’s assurances of the good character of Kehoe, Paris Street continued his private coaching. As a result, he was exposed to sexually suggestive comments and behaviour by Kehoe, which amounted to the criminal offence of grooming.
While the school and key staff members including the Principal went out of their way to support athletics coach Peter Kehoe when he faced charges of grooming Paris Street, little if anything was done to provide support to the student. By way of devastating contrast, the Principal and Dean of Sport gave references for the coach after he was convicted. The school appears to have been more concerned whether the boys who were to attend the criminal case would be wearing their school uniforms, and therefore be identifiably St Kevin’s students.
The culture of secrecy and cover up, condemned by the Royal Commission, appears to have continued unabated at St Kevin’s. While the Royal Commission has brought the issue of child sexual abuse to the attention of Australian society, it seems that many, including those in the private school community, have not learnt those lessons.
The events now being discussed, took place some five years ago. However, the failures of the school, staff and headmaster are only now being brought to account. It seems that not until the exposure of this debacle to public scrutiny, did the school consider it was time to act. We may be forgiven for drawing the cynical conclusion that the resignation of the headmaster, and other staff, has been a last ditch attempt to rescue the school’s reputation.
The St Kevin’s story is a very good lesson that those in authority, perhaps particularly at high profile private schools, have not yet learnt the lessons from the Royal Commission. They will continue to be held to account by the media and by the courts. RCT Law have now accumulated a range of claims against private schools, including St Kevin’s College, Xavier and Geelong Grammar among others. It remains the passionate desire of lawyers within our team to bring those who have perpetrated this behaviour and allowed the behaviour to occur, to account.
We act for our clients on a ‘no win no fee’ and are driven by a trauma informed approach. We are always prepared to engage with our clients, to explain the process and to find a way to a settlement that suits their needs.