Dark se­crets in sunny sub­urbs

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Letters -

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.

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