Rape culture claims rock elite schools as victims speak up
Two years of intense counselling and living with the shame of being raped by her a friend culminated last week with Bronte Vanderfield walking into Dee Why police station to report the harrowing events of January 1, 2019.
Bronte, 16 at the time, had been predictably anxious when she invited 30 friends to her idyllic northern Sydney home for a New Year's party while the parents were on holiday interstate.
By her own admission she was as "drunk as a skunk" having sank copious amounts of spirits to calm the nerves and, by the time the house filled with fellow Redlands private school students, including the friend, she was relaxed in her own environment socialising by the pool.
Some time around 11.30pm the friend led her by the hand up the stairs, to her bedroom, and flung her onto the bed muttering, "Let's do this."
"I don't want to, I don't feel well," Bronte recalls protesting, tears falling from her eyes.
"I was vomiting on myself, I was that drunk. I was afraid, paralysed, I had a lot of trust in him, he was my friend, I was too shocked to do anything," she said.
"He didn't listen ... he told me 'you're so fat, I like it.'"
Last Monday, the childcare worker told police the boy's name but did not press charges.
The police officer explained the daunting process of going to court would take several years. "I told her everything, how I didn't consent and was so drunk I didn't remember much, except that when he finished inside me he just walked down the stairs and left the house."
Bronte, now 19, is part of an explosion of rape and sex assaults claims among NSW teenagers - statistics show an annual 10 per cent rise in juvenile offenders of sexual assault since 2010 with 374 incidents reported last year.
The majority are not reported.
The latest five-yearly Personal Safety Survey revealed 38 per cent of women (421,400) and 16 per cent of men (185,200) aged 18-24 experienced sexual harassment in the 12 months prior to the 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics analysis.
Two in five people aged 18 years and over experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime.
Former female students from prestigious Kambala, Redlands and Ascham schools concede it was "normal" for their contemporaries to be assaulted by male peers who they say did not comprehend the gravity of their actions.
Former Kambala School student Chanel Contos, 22, has garnered 1,400 testimonies detailing rapes and assaults among schoolgirls, many from Sydney's top girls schools, some as young as 13.
"I went to St Catherine's, he went to Cranbrook. I was 16 I woke up so drunk in his bed with him penetrating me at a party with another couple having sex in the same room," one student wrote of her ordeal.
"I ran home without my shorts. He returned them the next week. He is now a high profile investment banker."
A former Kambala student recounted the ignominy of being too drunk to stop a Cranbrook boy performing oral sex on her after she had been sick.
"I didn't remember until the next day, when a friend told me," she wrote.
"In 2020 I found out that another night I was unconscious and he put his penis in my mouth 'as a joke' in front of a group of Cranbrook boys. They all laughed."
Redlands graduate Scarlett Sternberg was 16 when she felt pressurised into giving a boy oral sex.
"We were at his friend's backyard drinking when he tried to unhook my bra from under my jumper," the 19-year-old told The Daily Telegraph.
"His friends were goading him saying 'go you'.
"Half my friends in my year were sexually assaulted throughout school. It's difficult for guys to understand consent if they're not taught boundaries and respect before they're sexually active."
Ms Contos, who herself was subjected to sexual assault by a private schoolboy when she was 13, says the testimonies unearth a generation of private schoolboys with a reputation of being self-serving and craving instant gratification.
She took action after a friend confessed she had been assaulted when they were in year nine and after former federal government staffer Brittany Higgins alleged a colleague raped her in a Parliament House office in 2019.
"People are sexually active before they reach 16," she said.
"Slut shaming needs to stop and girls being chased because they're virgins needs to stop - there should be a focus in boys' schools to acknowledge toxic masculinity.
"Brittany embodies the problem, it shows it goes from all levels, high school to parliament. If sex education and consent were taught earlier, future girls would be safer."
The boys say the boundaries of consent are unclear and point to the competitive nature of private schools extending to sexual conquests.
"It makes getting with women a sport, how far you can go, who you got with, people sharing nudes and what they did to girls," one Scots graduate said.
"We had minimal sexual education, about one term of it in PDHPE, but it was treated like a joke. The only other sex education you got was watching porn at home. My female friends said so many Scots boys had rape allegations against them."
Psychologist Rose Cantali says the majority of 14-year-olds have unsupervised access to the internet and the impact of porn and associated sexual permissiveness should be addressed at primary school.
"There is a conquest culture among young men who believe if they push the boundaries of consent they'll be accepted by their peers," she said.
Eastern suburbs schools Cranbrook, Scots College, Waverley College, St Catherine's School and Redlands vow to introduce new sex and consent initiatives in the coming months.
"We are unable to comment (about Bronte Vanderfield), other than to note the school was providing support to the student through our pastoral team," principal Stephen Webber said.
Additional reporting: Madeleine Damo
*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Rape culture claims rock elite schools as victims speak up