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STIs rife when rape alleged at Qld school

AAP logoAAP 3/11/2016 Andi Yu

A third of pupils at a Queensland indigenous college had sexually transmitted diseases when a 14-year-old boarder alleged she was gang raped by other students, the abuse royal commission has heard.

Shalom Christian College in Townsville has been under the spotlight this week at the commission over its response to claims the girl was assaulted by four boys in March 2006.

As the inquiry delved into the school's failed handling of the incident, alarming statistics about the prevalence of sexual abuse across the school were revealed.

Former principal Christopher Shirley gave evidence that he made more reports about serious sex-related incidents to authorities in one year at Shalom than in 20 years at other schools.

"In a year at Shalom ... it would probably be somewhere about five (reports) a term, 20 a year," he said.

The majority of the students had suffered sexual abuse before they arrived at school and at least 30 per cent presented with sexually transmitted diseases, he said.

That figure was among other disturbing statistics such as 90 per cent having substance abuse issues, 60 per cent suffering physical and emotional abuse and 50 per cent having scabies, the commission heard.

There was also a high level of consensual sexual relationships between students at the school, which was challenging, Mr Shirley said.

"My view was that there was a level of acceptability that students brought with them about levels of engagement of a physical/sexual nature ... that would not be supported by the community," he said.

"I'm not saying that's wrong, it's just different."

Current principal Christopher England told the commission the number of boarding students having sexual contact within the school had decreased in recent years but Shalom lacked the funding to keep boarders safe.

The college is dependent on federal government funding, mostly through ABSTUDY, and does not receive fees from parents, the commission heard.

"You don't believe that in relation to boarding houses you can provide a safe environment for your students given the current resource levels through ABSTUDY - is that the bottom line of your evidence," commissioner Robert Fitzgerald asked.

"That would sum it up, yes sir," Mr England replied.

Mr England said the school wanted to reduce the boarding student-to-staff ratio, currently at 15-to-one but funding was too tight.

"We can't get (the ratio) lower because we would be taking more money from the education bundle that we get to educate the children in classes," he said.

Mr Shirley admitted failures in his support for the girl over the rape allegations and apologised to the parents for making them feel he had not believed their daughter's claims because of rumours she was promiscuous.

Her parents told the inquiry they were aware of other stories of children being sexually abused by fellow students and having to leave the school.

"You didn't just fail my daughter, you failed a lot of other kids, their parents and the communities they come from," the girl's father said, speaking about Shalom.

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