Dark secrets in sunny suburbs
The world was appalled in 2012 to learn of a child sex exploitation ring that had been operating for decades in the English town of Rotherham. Since the 1980s, gangs of predatory adults in the town had violated more than 1000 young victims. In some cases, those victims were silenced by threats against their mothers.
Similar cases subsequently emerged in other British towns. The involvement of Pakistani immigrants was a common factor, which some claimed was a reason why authorities were reluctant to take action.
Former British Labour MP Ann Cryer, speaking about a gang that preyed on girls in Manchester, told the BBC she begged police to do something.
"Neither the police nor social services would touch those cases,” Cryer said. “They were afraid of being called racist.”
That’s a particular issue for British authorities to deal with, but other elements of those large-scale attacks would have been awfully familiar to women who grew up in Sydney’s northern beaches during the 1980s.
According to many who attended schools in the area, those establishments were sexual free-for-alls for male teachers who preyed upon teenage female students.
While there is no suggestion threats or violence were part of the alleged conduct, just as in the UK there was an obvious power imbalance. In fact, given that accused adults in the northern beaches were their targets’ teachers, the imbalance was even more severe.
Just as in the UK, older males used alcohol and drugs to break down their victims’ resistance.
And just as in the UK, authorities did little to intervene.
“It was a time of very pervasive sexism,” remembers Robyn Wheeler, now 53, a vice-captain at Cromer High School during the 1980s. “But most of all it was an unwillingness of those in authority to do anything.”
In the case of those British gangs, police and the legal system have belatedly moved to arrest and convict dozens of perpetrators. The same cannot be said, however, of those who acted without constraint in the northern beaches.
“Some of those who were involved, their careers extended into quite high places,” Wheeler said. “There are teachers still working now.”
Perhaps now, as women continue to step forward, justice will finally be done.