19 Jun 2021

Images of sexual assaults shared among Dunedin teens

5:35 pm on 19 June 2021

Jane* has blurry memories of that night.

Sad woman silhouette worried at sunset

File photo. Photo: 123RF

After passing out on a bed at a party, the teen vaguely remembers a door briefly opening, and then closing.

She did not know that a male party-goer had entered the room.

She did not know that he soon began performing a sexual act.

And she was also unaware that someone had slipped their phone through a crack in the door to film what was happening.

The amateur videographer made no attempt to stop what was occurring.

In an era of increasing awareness about the interconnected issues of consent, alcohol, and sexual violence, the incident should be an aberration, a rarity.

But Jane said it was just one in a long line of explicit recordings made of Dunedin high school students in compromising positions or, in some cases, being sexually assaulted.

And there are allegations some schools are often aware of the videos, but attempt to hush them up.

The issue was highlighted by a recent video which depicted two First XV rugby players from an Otago high school engaged in a sexual act, while other teens stood around cheering them on.

The video, filmed at an alcohol-fuelled party following a match and widely shared on social media, has been verified by the Otago Daily Times.

The ODT contacted half a dozen Dunedin secondary schools about the wider culture this week. One responded.

Police said the issue was prevalent, but the decision whether to prosecute was not as simple as it might appear.

Jane, a former Dunedin high school pupil, said the culture around explicit videos and videos of sexual assaults had been around at some Dunedin schools for years.

"There's been a lot of sexual stuff that's been recorded ... every week, or month, there's new videos coming out.

"You can whip out your phone, it's the easiest thing to do, and then all of a sudden you have all this power with what you've recorded."

As well as the humiliation of the videos themselves, there were further repercussions.

"When it happened for me ... people would yell out stuff about the person that was in the video with me. It's spiralling from a drunken mistake into bullying."

She believed schools were often aware of videos doing the rounds, but did little to stop it.

"A lot of my friends showed teachers and staff members the video, but nothing was really done, as long as we weren't talking about it in school time."

A girl at her school allegedly filmed another girl naked during a school trip, she said.

"The next year she was made a prefect."

Detective Senior Sergeant Kallum Croudis, of Dunedin, said the filming and sharing of intimate videos was "really prevalent".

Both the filming of an intimate act, and the distribution of an intimate recording, without consent are crimes.

Police had prosecuted teenagers for creating or sharing intimate recordings before, he said.

Pupils at a different Dunedin high school were aware of nude photos being shared without consent.

No caption

Photo: Jae Park/ Unsplash

One pupil said some teens seemed unable to make the connection between online activity and real-world consequences.

Another said consent needed to be taught as part of the curriculum, and much more in depth than it was now.

"Much better sex ed would a be a good start."

A former pupil of another Dunedin high school, who left at the end of last year, said there were similar videos and photos being shared the whole time he was at school.

Some depicted sexual assaults. Others showed teens in compromising situations, usually after consuming alcohol.

In one instance, a teen had a photo taken of them while they were skinny-dipping at a beach, which was then widely shared.

He believed the issue was prevalent at most schools.

"When other people from different schools are bringing it up, it indicates it must be quite widely spread."

He also believed schools often knew about recordings going around, but generally tried to keep them quiet.

Most pupils filming and receiving the material thought it was funny, he said.

But there were potentially serious impacts - something police had to carefully consider after learning of intimate recordings.

Croudis said often the videos were created as a result of a stupid decision at a party, rather than malice or predatory behaviour.

"We don't want to necessarily introduce a child to the criminal justice system in relation to a one-off incident of being foolish.

"I don't buy sledgehammering walnuts, I buy education, I buy people having respect for each other and not doing that kind of stuff.

"That's where we've got to go; we can't keep sending people down to that courthouse for decisions to be made that introduce them to a world of harm."

Police did not necessarily have to receive complaints to investigate something.

"If there was something really abhorrent we became aware of through other means, then we have the discretion to be able to say 'we should look into that'," he said.

Sometimes, police would be contacted by a third party about a video that was circulating.

After seeing it, if there was possible criminal behaviour or the individual should know it was circulating, then an approach might be made.

If police believed someone was taken advantage of, they would investigate.

Croudis confirmed police had not investigated the most recent video, and no complaint had been made.

As for schools, they had a duty of care for pupils while they were at school, but were not required to take information to police, especially without the consent of the pupils, he said.

"Schools are interested in their reputation - don't get me wrong, everyone's interested in their reputation when they provide a service.

"To suggest that they're wilfully not telling police against the wishes of the individual is taking things too far, in my view."

He urged young people to consider what substances they took, ensure they trusted those around them, and think about the consequences of their actions.

Trust was also important for people who allowed themselves to be filmed or photographed, as the material could later be shared beyond what was agreed.

"When you're thinking you're sending something that will disappear, it's never going to disappear, it's always held somewhere by someone."

The ODT contacted a selection of Dunedin high schools with a range of questions, covering issues with any explicit videos at their own schools, to the support the schools offered for pupils affected by such videos.

Only Otago Boys' High School responded by deadline.

Rector Richard Hall said the school had not had an incident exactly like the most recently circulated video.

However, he said they often had to deal with instances of harmful social media practices inside the school.

"We have a zero tolerance policy to students filming other students without their permission and are increasingly using restorative practices to engage students with the understanding of harm.

"We choose to be in the solution, even for things that happen outside of the school, because it comes back into the school."

He disagreed with the notion that schools covered up incidents, saying his school would, at times, encourage families to report incidents to police.

"I am sure school counsellors all over the country do this work every day, with very little in the way of practical and real help. So, practically, schools do not highlight these issues to their community, because by doing so the harm will often be increased."

He pointed to the effect of alcohol on decision-making, and to the limited ability of parents to monitor their children's social media activity.

"I am yet to see, with over 25 years of experience, any one tool or method that will mean every teenager makes the best decision every single time.

"I think conversations around pornography, consent, social media and the like need to be aired publicly more often."

*Not her real name

- This story first appeared in the Otago Daily Times and has been republished with permission.

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