From the Head Master
The issue of sexual assault in our society continues to loom large.
The petition started by Chanel Contos now has more than 37000 signatures and more than 3000 testimonies of peer-on-peer teen sexual assault from around Australia. In reflecting on the petition and testimonies, against the wider background of the current news cycle, it is evident that there are many causes that have given rise to the damaging experiences recounted by our young people. Misogyny, pornography, substance abuse, peer pressure, adult supervision, cultural expectations and multiple other factors are combining to bring peer-on-peer teen sexual assault to epidemic levels.
In recent weeks, as we have listened to the stories that had previously been opaque to many of us, we have been considering these diverse issues and how they might be countered. It is a complex, society-wide problem that is profoundly damaging to our young people, so I am very thankful that it is now at the centre of our attention.
In recognising the many factors that are contributing to this issue, I believe that there is one that has been below the horizon in much of the discourse, but that needs to be acknowledge and considered. That is, an inadequate understanding of the significance of sex.
During the week I read an article by Dr Emma Wood, published on the ABC Religion and Ethics website, that I highly commend for your reading. Dr Wood argues that the ‘recreational’ view of sex that is characteristic of modern Western culture plays a significant role in creating the horrors that we read about in these online testimonies. Consent education, no matter how early it is introduced or how thoroughly it is taught, will not be adequate to protect our young people. (I encourage you to read the full article, rather than just my two sentence summary.)
I think that Dr Wood’s article has great explanatory power. It should provoke us to consider what we might be losing in our modern understanding of sex and its significance. If Dr Wood’s thesis is correct, and in light of the online testimonies that have been provided with the consent petition, a shallow view of sex is profoundly damaging and harmful to our young people.
As an Anglican School, Trinity affirms the traditional Christian understanding of sex that is taught in the Bible and believed by Christians across the world and through the centuries. Sex is good, precious, and intended by God for an exclusive, unambiguously-committed, mutually-loving, life-long union. This is the very antithesis of casual hook-up culture that has been recognised as so damaging in the lives of our young people.
In holding to this high understanding of sex, the School is acutely conscious that this is no longer a shared cultural assumption. In fact, the statement above is counter-cultural in modern Western society, perhaps to the point of being ridiculous or offensive.
In affirming the Bible’s teaching about sex, the School must also navigate the gaps between the ideal and the actual, between our deeply-held convictions and the lived realities of our communities. We must recognise the diversity of the School families and the views that are held with reference to sexuality across our wider society. We must find ways to educate boys so that risk is minimised and harm reduced, but not to settle for these outcomes. If we are convinced that the Christian faith provides a firm foundation on which the good life – for individuals and for communities – can be built, then we are obliged to commend it to our community in word and deed.
The phenomenon of peer-on-peer sexual abuse is one that demands our attention and our focussed efforts. Please be assured that the School is making every effort to support you in our shared endeavours to form men of decent character who conduct their relationships with respect and humility. May God help us all with this crucial task.
Detur Gloria Soli Deo.
Tim Bowden | Head Master
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