Sadly, it seems every other week over the last couple of years, we have been asked to help a school principal manage allegations, admissions and court cases about historical sexual abuse at their school. This can be a very distressing time for many people within the school community and requires good communication to all of the school community and stakeholders, especially with the media.
Investigation launched after allegations a retired teacher confessed to molesting boys at The Southport School
Media Source: Gold Coast Bulletin
The following article is an example of good communication and messages from the Principal…
Observations from Schools Media & Crisis Expert, Sam Elam
- It is a sad, but true fact that the sexual abuse of children has occurred in the past, in all types of schools, regardless of a school’s reputation or esteem in the community. Although very sad, it is so frequent that, for the media, it has become less of a “sensational’ story and the story ‘value’ has reduced. Currently, unless it is reported in a Royal Commission with graphic details of perpetrators and/or victims’ stories, most sections of the media (radio and television) are no longer reporting it. In the main, the metro newspapers will report it (usually through education reporters) online and perhaps in paper editions and regional newspapers will of course be interested in the local news.
- Unless the story has some unusual and particularly ‘interesting’ or ‘colourful’ ongoing aspects it will be a short-lived media story.
- The school community will never criticise principals for being on the front foot and giving them too much information via regular, transparent communication but they will if there is seen to be little communication, secrecy or ‘cover ups’.
- Do not run and hide, be upfront with your school community and the media (if requested). The events are clearly historical, it should and would not happen today in your school and your key messages in your communication will reflect this. For example – you should emphasise and repeat often that it was “30 or 40 years ago”, ” a long time ago”, “well in the past” etc which does not mean you can absolve responsibility as a school but it places the events in context and offers reassurance for parents etc.
- Show empathy, support and recognition of suffering and perhaps, courage of past victims and their families and encourage any other past students to come forward to authorities.
- Emphasise your current day focus and policies with regard to child protection and safety.