Australian Federal Police (AFP) and detectives in several states are investigating a website that contains sexual images of girls from private and public schools across Australia. The website is in the form of a “message chat forum” and has photos and requests of naked schoolgirls. At least 70 Australian schools are mentioned in the requests, police say. AFP Detective Acting Superintendent Marcus Boorman said a number of the “images allegedly depict non-consenting or underage girls”. The page reportedly features naked photos of teenage girls, some with their names, so others can rate them. Police earlier said a minimum of 70 schools had been targeted around Australia. NSW, Queensland, Victoria and ACT police are investigating as are a number of education departments.

However, the Queensland Police Service (QPS) issued a statement saying it had so far found no evidence of child exploitation. “We believe the site is hosted overseas and does not appear to contain any child exploitation material,” Detective Superintendent Cheryl Scanlon said. QPS said the site contained images and information that had been obtained from social media sites and from across the internet. The AFP’s Acting Superintendent Boorman said they were in the early stages of an investigation. “We’re working closely with our national and international counterparts and other government agencies to evaluate this matter and determine the appropriate courses of action,” he said.

Townsville-based Detective Senior Sergeant David Miles said the website was a chat forum targeting schoolgirls and at least 18 Queensland schools had been targeted. “The website appears to be in the format of a message chat forum where you can upload and request photos from various schools or various locations around Australia,” he said. “From our understanding we have a number of images that have been posted from at this stage, a minimum of 70 schools that have been identified around Australia where we have people requesting specific photos to be uploaded.” The Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmanian education departments said they were aware of the website and were working with police.

“This website is highly offensive. We will work with other agencies – including police – as a matter of urgency to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our students,” the Queensland Department of Education said in a statement. Detective Senior Sergeant Miles said officers were working through the images as part of a national investigation into the website. “First and foremost, if we identify any children, we’ll have to approach the individuals and ascertain the circumstances in which the imagery might have been obtained,” he said. “We then go into a situation where we explore how the image is disseminated, how it was put on the web. Then we look at people committing offences.”

Brisbane’s Southern Cross Catholic College held a meeting with all staff and students. Principal Brett Horton discussed the website and the language “which is disturbing and depicts predatory, misogynistic and violent content”. “I explained some of the real-life consequences of sharing these images which range from humiliation and distress through to legal implications including criminal charges,” he said in a statement. Brisbane’s All Hallows School principal Catherine O’Kane has written to parents acknowledging the school was named as one of those targeted. “We will be meeting with our students in Years 7 to 12 to discuss the ongoing challenge that pornography presents for our young women,” she said.

Tasmanian Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff told State Parliament two state schools had been caught up in the pornography ring and his department was working with authorities. ACT police confirmed they were conducting investigations into complaints linked to five schools in the territory, and had referred allegations to the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner. The principal of St Mary Mackillop College in Canberra, Michael Lee, described the website as “invasive and degrading”. “This report points to something far more concerning than an error of judgment and it’s degrading, humiliating, and contemptuous disregard for images of other people will not be marginalised or overlooked,” he said in a statement.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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A new sex education guide being promoted by the research institute behind the Safe Schools program provides students with explicit descriptions of more than a dozen sexual activities. La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society this month launched Transmission, a film with related educational activities that introduces its Year 10 audience to a range of highly sexualised terms that have not previously been canvassed in sex education curriculums. The resource is written by the centre’s Pamela Blackman, a former Department of Education and Training employee who has written or consulted on a range of sex education resources endorsed by the Victorian government.

While the resource is centred on a film about HIV and sexually transmitted infections partly funded with a $15,200 grant from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, one of the accompanying activities focuses on sexual pleasure. In one classroom activity, students are asked to consider a list of 20 ways of “engaging in sexual pleasure” to determine which activities they “think might be okay”. They are then asked to sort each sex act by their level of comfort. Ms Blackman acknowledges in the explanatory notes that the exercise might prove confronting for teachers and students. “Sexual activity, for those ready to engage in it, should be a good experience, not an experience full of fear and guilt,” she writes. “I think it’s important to recognise that sexual activity is pleasurable as well as normal.”

A focus on pleasure in addition to risk appears to be an emerging development in sex education. As is the widespread acceptance that not all students identify as heterosexual. Research released by the University of South Australia earlier this year revealed that students wanted less repetition of the biological aspects of human sexuality in their sex education classes and more “explicit and accurate” information about intimacy, sexual pleasure and love. The report, “It is not all About Sex: Young people’s views about sexuality and relationship education”, claimed that boys in particular wanted more information about how to have sex, different types of sexual acts and pornography. Those findings contrast heavily with research done by the La Trobe centre that surveyed secondary school teachers on the same topic.

The accompanying report, co-written by Ms Blackman and released in 2011, found that the pleasure of sexual behaviour was taught by less than half the teachers surveyed. It pointed out that most sex education classes focused on fact-based topics around reproduction, birth control, HIV/STDs, safe sex as well as managing peer pressure, forming healthy relationships and decision-making around sexual activity. Abstinence remains a key theme. The explicit nature of the centre’s latest resource has been questioned by Australian Catholic University’s senior research fellow Kevin Donnelly. Among the handouts provided to students is a list of sexual terms including “analingus”, also known as “rimming”and “scissoring”. “Penetrative sex” is described as “when a penis or object is inserted into the vagina or anus”.

“Most parents and teachers would feel they’ve really gone overboard with this,” Dr Donnelly said. “The reality is the pressure is on young people to be sexually explicit and adventurous already but that doesn’t mean we have to endorse that by what we teach.” Family Voice Australia national policy officer Damian Wyld said that many 15 and 16-year-olds had not engaged in sexual activity and classroom activities like this could be distressing. “The Andrews government should place parents’ minds at ease by immediately ruling out any use of this program” he said. A spokeswoman for Victorian Education Minister James Merlino would not comment on whether there were plans to endorse the resource, saying only that it was not part of the department’s resources. The La Trobe centre and Ms Blackman declined to comment.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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The Tasmanian Government’s proposed changes to the Anti-Discrimination Act has raised the ire of conservative groups and same-sex marriage advocates. In the lead-up to a national plebiscite on same-sex marriage, the State Government has proposed changes that would create a “reasonableness test” within the act. Church groups will have more freedom to speak out against same-sex marriage under the changes. Under the proposal, the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner would also have to reject a complaint if it could not have been predicted an act would cause offence. Premier Will Hodgman said the changes would allow “genuine protection of freedom of religion by striking a fairer balance between the right of free speech and the need to protect people from unlawful conduct”.

Mr Hodgman said the current act was not fulfilling its role in allowing free speech while providing protections. “The changes will allow the complaint to be quickly resolved and rejected in circumstances where there is a valid defence,” Mr Hodgman said. Prominent gay rights advocate Rodney Croome said he staunchly opposed the plan, arguing the act did not need to be changed. “What the Government is proposing is allowing hatred to be acceptable under the guise of religion. The Australian Christian Lobby’s (ACL) Mark Brown welcomed the Government’s thinking, but said it did not go far enough. “While we are very happy with the intention of the changes we believe they’ve missed the mark, in that this is really an issue about free speech rather than religious practice,” he said.

ACL said sections of the act relating to causing offence needed to be totally removed before the planned plebiscite. “This time leading into a plebiscite is going to be important for everybody to have the right to free speech, and some people will be offended,” he said. “That’s what happens in a normal debate – people don’t go out to offend people but everyone needs to have that freedom. “In countries where same-sex marriage is legislated, like Canada for instance, it has become an offence to even say that children deserve to have a mother and a father where possible. We don’t want to see that happen here.” The proposed changes come after transgender activist Martine Delaney lodged a complaint about a Catholic Church booklet opposing same-sex marriage. Ms Delaney withdrew her case earlier this year.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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