Knox Grammar was once an elite boarding school in Sydney, Australia. Now, however, investigation into the school's history has revealed that teachers sexually assaulted students—and the school even honored a pedophile teacher with a plaque that read "he touched us all."
In a hearing before The Royal Commission, Scott Ashton—a student at Knox Grammar in the '80s—stated that he was "confused" by the plaque honoring Bruce Barrett because, to Ashton's recollection, the teacher had been a merciless sadist as well as a pedophile, who tickled boys for his sexual pleasure and assaulted Ashton after class. But, according to Ashton, the abuse seemed "normal" in terms of the Knox environment, where sexual and physical assault were both common and practiced openly. Ashton says he never spoke of the abuse because of the shame he felt surrounding what his teacher did.
From The Independent:
"The fact that he was so well regarded by the school despite being a notorious molester made me feel very confused and powerless," he said.
"I felt ashamed of my abuse. I was deeply ashamed and unable to discuss it with anyone.
"It was an issue which I avoided because any reminder of it would cause me severe stress and interfered with my ability to function and cope on a day-to-day basis."
Barrett, who also beat his pupils for fun on the days that he wore a red tie, wasn't the only person engaging in the sexual molestation of minors. According to reports, there were at least five teachers who molested students employed at Knox Grammar over the course of 33 years. One, Damien Vance, was even given a reference after he was fired from the school for "indecent assault of a student," a charge for which he later served jail time.
Vance was asked to leave the school in 1989, two years after the indecent assault took place.
He told the commission he was summonsed to a meeting with the then headmaster Dr Ian Patterson.
"He mentioned that some parents would be coming down on Saturday, and that it would be in your best interests not to be here," he said.
"I put two and two together and made 22."
Vance said he was given 72 hours to leave the school, but moved out that day.
Despite his firing, Vance was able to find further employment as an instructor, due to the fact that he received a reference from the school's former headmaster Ian Paterson, known to the students as "the snake."
But that isn't even the half of it. According to Ashton and other witnesses, teachers took sexual advantage of the boys openly and in groups. One former student says that he was regularly taken from his bed by Vance and another instructor, and Ashton says that he was invited to a sex party for which he was told he would be paid.
Mr Ashton said, in 1986, an acquaintance invited him to a sex party where he was paid for sex work, and which was attended by about 10 Knox Grammar teachers and some students.
He said a few of the teachers in attendance were later convicted of child sex offences.
Ashton says that the abuse he suffered, as well as the fact that there was no one he could talk to (considering how many teachers were in on the molestation) ruined his life. He told The Royal Commission that what happened at Knox Grammar led to a downward spiral, including a career in sex work that was influenced by his abuse.
During the hearing, a lawyer for the school apologized on its behalf, stating that the school had failed in its responsibility to the students and their parents. "There is no excuse," the lawyer said. But former students, including Ashton, aren't as forgiving as the school would hope. They see the apology as nothing more than a way for the school to cover itself legally.
Adrian Steer, who gave evidence of his abuse while being a student at Knox, also dismissed the school's acknowledgement of its failure.
"I don't believe it was an apology," he said.
"It came from a lawyer, it didn't come from the school themselves. I would like the school to stand up and take responsibility for exactly what's happened."
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