“It was just a group of boys having fun”.
This comment might evoke thoughts of boys splashing around in a swimming pool, skateboarding on the road or tagging a brick wall.
But this comment was made in defence of a vile Instagram account called “ys [young slut]_academy_puspus” which sexually objectified underage girls as young as 11 years' old.
Worse still, the comment was made by a man who identified himself as an “old boys' club” father of one of the Brighton Grammar boys who ran the Instagram account, in a threatening anonymous phone call to a victim's mother.
The Instagram account, which invited people to vote for the "slut of the year", featured photographs of young female students in various stages of dress with captions such as “[*****] is an up and coming draft pick in the 2018 slut draft we like to start them young!! Key traits — she's 13 but tits of a 14 year old, loves anal but doesn't mind copping it up the pussy!!”
A photograph of three Year six students was titled as an “orgy of YS [Young Sluts]” who would make “prime candidates for the YS Slut Draft”.
The ringleaders appear to be senior students. It was originally reported that two Year 11 footballers were expelled over the posts, but it is now understood that the boys' parents were advised by staff to withdraw them to avoid technical expulsions.
However, the group behind the account consists of more than 40 members, most of whom appear to attend Brighton Grammar in Melbourne and have not faced any consequences.
Now is the time for apologies and education. Instead, several Brighton Grammar parents have rushed to the defence of the boys with “boys will be boys” excuses, as well as launching an attack on one victim's mothers for calling attention to the issue.
“What's the big deal? It was only up for a few hours” one mother wrote of a photo of primary school girls with an explicit sexual caption.
“The [Year six] girls should have been wearing tracksuit pants [instead of shorts]. Think about how this will impact the poor boys, one of them is suffering depression.
“[The boys] just made a silly mistake and [the girl's mother] needs to let it go.”
Some horrified onlookers have pointed to the school's prestigious reputation to explain the defensive responses.
The annual cost of tuition for a Year 11 student at Brighton Grammar is $36,982. Those are the fees paid by people who will do nearly anything to preserve the future careers of their children — even bully their child's victims into silence.
The incident came to light just one month after it was reported that Brock Turner, the Stanford University athlete convicted of the rape of an unconscious woman, is expected to serve only three months of his six month sentence.
In a court statement, Turner's father described the violent rape as “20 minutes of action” and detailed his son's swimming achievements in an argument for leniency. His statement made no reference to his son's victim.
The readiness of these parents to minimise and excuse the sexual violence perpetrated by their children sends some unnerving messages about privilege and entitlement.
It says 16 to 17-year-old boys can sexually harass 11-year-old girls and it will be described as a “silly mistake”, as though they accidentally poured orange juice on their cereal instead of milk.
It says a man can rape a woman and his father can present the argument that his son should not be judged on whether or not he is a rapist, but on how many minutes it took him to rape a woman.
Most importantly, these incidents send the disarming and pervasive message that the sons of privileged families can escape the repercussions of their actions and the women and girls they victimise will rarely see justice.
These are not feminist myths, nor are they isolated incidents. For women and girls, these are daily realities.
These messages both reflect and enable a society with a real problem with sexual violence, overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women.
A study by Centres Against Sexual Assault found that girls between the ages of 10 and 14 form the greatest proportion of survivors of sexual violence, followed by young women between 15 and 24 years.
Unfortunately, the parents who are content to repeat the old saying “boys will be boys” are inadvertently dooming countless girls to suffer at the hands of boys who have never learned about consent and respect.
According to the United Nations, Australia has one of the highest rates of reported sexual assault in the world. Until we do away with victim blaming and making excuses for sexual assault, we will not arrest the crisis of sexual violence in Australia.
We need to put an end to violent behaviour before it begins, with a massive expansion of compulsory sexual education programs for all children that deal with respectful relationships, gender equality, consent and bodily autonomy.
Reversing the gutting of the Safe Schools program would be a good start!
But we also need to revive the women's rights movement in a big way and take to the streets to demand a definitive end to sexual violence.
This type of movement is not about targeting men. It's about empowering the women involved and onlooking young girls in the process.
It is about demanding women-only domestic violence shelters, investment in rape crisis services and serious sexual education in schools.
Only through this type of movement will we finally drown out “boys will be boys” with a cry of: “Yes means yes, no means no; However we dress, wherever we go!”