Students at Swansea High School in New South Wales, on Australia’s southeastern coast, were recently told by their teacher that a woman’s clothing makes a difference if she is raped.
Several students immediately stood up to this assertion and one filmed the interaction. This conversation took place during a lesson about how women’s fashion has changed since the 1950s.
The teacher asserted that the woman’s outfit was a factor in a recent local rape case. Reece Hill, a 15-year-old student who was in the class immediately took issue with what the teacher was saying.
“[Teacher] then brought up a woman in Newcastle who was raped recently and when they contacted the club she was at they pretty much blamed her.”
“[The teacher] was like ‘that lady would need to be held accountable for what she’s wearing’ which is where the video starts off.”
“She got incredibly angry, said my generation knows nothing, that I needed to learn, and that rape victims cannot 100 per cent victim themselves.”
In the video, Reece can be heard to make an important point about consent:
“It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing, there was a lack of consent regardless … she said no.”
The video was posted to Facebook by someone not affiliated with Swansea High school, and the teacher was removed from her teaching position.
Swansea High School principal Robyn Leggatt told parents in a letter that the former teacher had been relocated to a “non-school setting” after the incident.
“The school deeply regrets the distress these comments have caused.”
“The comments made by the staff member were wrong: they do not reflect the views of students and staff of Swansea High, nor those of the NSW Department of Education.”
Students Reece Hill, Natalia Nikolic, Marnie Holl and Ngara Kennedy led a protest at the school against rape culture and victim blaming.
Nikolic specified during the protest that the students weren’t gathered to attack Swansea High School, but to bring attention to the teacher’s harmful rhetoric and how commonly those attitudes are shared.
Nikolic shared an uncomfortable reality during rhe rally.
“She didn’t really know the people in her class. She didn’t know what they had been through or if anyone had been raped or abused as a child and it wasn’t right of her to say.”
“Coming from someone who has had close friends abused or raped growing up it is a touchy subject.”
She later told BuzzFeed News:
“We don’t want the school slandered, they are very supportive. Our intention was never to slander the teacher, it is to raise awareness.”
Hill talked about the students’ mission going forward.
“We want to use the platform that we have been given to make a positive change and leave our mark.”
“Our goal is to stop rape culture being taught. We want to start with utterly removing it from schools with young impressionable minds.”
“We want to make sure that no one has to feel the way that my peers and my myself did that day.”
Many people on social media congratulated the students on their willingness to stand up to injustice.
Today, Swansea High School students protested against rape culture and victim blaming. We are so impressed by young women speaking up for their rights, and the allies standing alongside them.https://t.co/WpQvLDHMVa
— Full Stop Foundation (@FullStopFdn) October 28, 2019
Well done to the students at Swansea High, you give us hope for the future. Good on the school for moving the teacher and supporting your students
— ????Deborah Stevens (@QuandiGirl22) October 29, 2019
This is why, to some degree, I feel hopeful for the future. Younger minds are building to change society.
— DrTess Ryan (@TessRyan1) October 29, 2019
Several people also appreciated the school’s willingness to support the students and create a safe learning environment.
Swansea High School changed their sign to say ‘we support student voice’ and the teacher has been relocated to a non teaching setting. This is a pretty good response from the school, I am so impressed by & proud of these #LakeMacquarie teens ???????? The futures looking good ???? https://t.co/HbpJdCwU8X
— Amy Thunig (@AmyThunig) October 29, 2019
This is a great response to the situation. From my experience, a lot of schools would have doubled down. It’s great to see student voice valued like this.
— Dr Melinda Mann (@MelindaMann01) October 29, 2019
The response from the young people in the video, & the protest is fantastic, & it’s great the school supported them
— Sincerelynotsorry (@sncrlynotsorry) October 29, 2019
While the teacher’s comments were certainly out of line, Swansea High School and NSW Department of Education’s response was spot on.
They supported their students and immediately investigated the situation. The teacher’s comments are currently still being investigated by the Department of Education.
A spokesperson for NSW Department of Education said:
“The department does not tolerate bullying, violence or anti-social behaviour of any kind in government schools.”
“NSW schools are safe places where students and staff are held to high standards and are encouraged to care and respect themselves and others, be responsible for their behaviour and act with integrity, empathy, fairness and compassion.”