Girl, 9, left to sit near abuser

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2014

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A 9-year-old girl sexually assaulted by an older classmate was left sitting just rows away from him because the school considered it a case of children "playing mothers and fathers".

After nearly two years of counselling for victim abuse, the girl's parents shared their story with The Press in the hope some good would come from their daughter's experience.

Sexual and child abuse experts say school staff "desperately" need better training in dealing with disclosures of sexual abuse.

The principal of the small rural Canterbury school said it "would have been good to know how to deal with [the incident] better".

Police and Child, Youth and Family were involved, and the 12-year-old boy completed a 15-week Stop programme - intervention for children who have engaged in concerning sexual behaviour.

Other pupils had seen the boy assaulting the girl at his home after school and told their parents, who alerted the school, the parents said.

The girl's mother was concerned the children were not separated until she was told.

The parents and school disagree on how long after the incident the boy and girl remained in the same classroom, but the girl's mother said it was a week, at which point she was told by the boy's mother.

That week was "detrimental" to her daughter's recovery.

She felt the school "floundered", especially when stipulated supervision of the boy was "ignored" and he was left to mingle with the girl at events shared with her new school.

The school's principal believed he did everything he could, but at the time he believed the incident was "not a big deal".

"I think we probably underestimated the effect that it had," he said. "We thought it was just a couple of kids playing mothers and fathers and exploring."

The principal felt the school was "implicated just because the children were in the same classroom", but it did not happen on school grounds.

The principal did not separate the children or "make a big deal of it".

"I didn't make a fuss. I thought this is something the parents need to sort out."

There would have been a sexual abuse policy in place, but "I don't know whether I would have referred to it".

He would take the children "right out of the situation" and let the parents know, he said. "It was really sad, it sort of ripped the community apart."

The boy's mother said her son had completed rehabilitation, and there had been no incidents since.

She did not believe the school had done anything wrong, since it happened at her house outside school hours.

The mother said she was "absolutely mortified" when she found out, and contacted the victim's mother and police straight away.

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"I still maintain at the end of the day it was two kids experimenting.

"I'm not in anyway saying my son is innocent and pure, but it needs to be put away."

Detective Sergeant Rex Barnett confirmed an incident "of a sexual nature" did happen, and it was dealt with appropriately at the time.

Victim advocate Ken Clearwater said maintaining contact between the children sent "a completely damaging message" to the victim.

Saying it was just two children playing around was "totally inappropriate talk".

Clearwater encouraged schools to attend a Ministry of Justice-funded seminar - Dealing with Disclosures of Sexual Violence - which began in Northland last month and would be in Christchurch on September 29.

Child Matters chief executive Anthea Simcock said there were concerns that more than a third of schools did not have policies in dealing with child or sexual abuse, and not all staff knew about them if they did.

An Education Ministry spokeswoman said guidelines sent to all schools clearly set out the process to follow, involving Child, Youth and Family, police and the ministry.

The system was "working well", she said.

- The Press

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