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College failed on girl's welfare - parents

AAP logoAAP 1/11/2016 Andi Yu

A Queensland mother was cleaning her house when she received a phone call: "Mum, I have been raped".

It was March 2006 and her 14-year-old daughter had recently started at Shalom Christian College, a boarding school in Townsville for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

She had asked her parents to send her there, and after some hesitation at letting their daughter live far away, they enrolled her, optimistic about the school's focus on indigenous culture and good education.

Sitting in the witness box at the child sex abuse Royal Commission in Sydney on Wednesday, both mother and father wept.

"Don't worry Bub, I'll be there soon," the mother said, remembering her response on the phone that day.

The girl, referred to as CLF, was sexually assaulted at night on school grounds by a gang of four males, the commission heard.

All four boarded at the school, but two were no longer students, and one of them had a criminal record as a sex offender, the parents said.

They travelled to Townsville as quickly as they could but were disappointed to find the Shalom had not looked after their daughter's interests medically, psychologically or legally, the commission heard.

Principal Christopher Shirley told them there were rumours their daughter had been behaving promiscuously and was looking for a boyfriend, the commission heard.

"I said look here, this is not my daughter's fault," the mother said.

Mr Shirley asked if they were sure they wanted to report the assault to police because the four males responsible were from "well known and influential families", they said.

"I was gob-smacked," the father said.

Their meeting with Mr Shirley gave them the impression his priority was protecting the school.

"He was also treating us like we were dumb black people," the mother said.

The parents were also shocked to discover that in the days following their daughter's disclosure to the school that she was assaulted, it sent her to another campus designed for misbehaving students.

However, school counsellor Amy Bridson told the commission this move was out of concern for the girl's safety.

Ms Bridson also said the school wanted to report the incident to police before the parents arrived but that they had asked for it to be delayed until their arrival.

The commission heard that several staff at Shalom were aware of problems a month earlier that were never reported to the parents.

A boarding staff member was aware of CLF being the victim of a sexual assault in February and two teachers knew she did not feel safe at the school.

When CLF came home with her parents she fell into alcohol, drugs, self harm, suicide attempts and a string of unhealthy relationships with violent men, her parents said.

The parents criticised the school for its policies which they believe have not only let their daughter down, but other students too.

The March 2006 sexual assault took six years to go through the courts.

The four males responsible were acquitted of rape and convicted of the lesser charge of "indecent treatment of a child under 16", however the convictions were not recorded.

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