Note: This story discusses sexual assault.
Who had a duty of care for Kate the night she was allegedly raped by Attorney-General Christian Porter? She was just 16 and Porter was 17. They were school students, having travelled from their home states of South Australia and Western Australia to Sydney for a debating tournament.
If was meant to be a fun trip for the students: lots of dinners and dancing and debating, as well as underage drinking and partying in pubs. It seems unlikely in today’s Sydney that a group of students would be able to drink in bars unchaperoned.
Crikey spoke to those who organised the trip, and who were in some ways responsible for the students’ well-being.
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University of Sydney Union
Students arrived for the World Universities Debating Championships on New Year’s Day 1988. The event was hosted by the University of Sydney Union. Debates ran from Monday January 4 to Friday of the same week, and students stayed for the weekend on either side. Plenty of social events were organised — from formal dinners to picnics and a harbour cruise.
Current union president and board director Irene Ma tells Crikey the organisation was not-for-profit, independent, student-led and could not comment on the allegations. The union would not say if any safeguards had been put in place to protect students since the ’80s.
“[We] will cooperate fully with any police or other formal investigations, should that be necessary.”
Australian Debating Federation is the national branch of the World University Debating Championship. President Mac Hanlin tells Crikey the volunteer-run organisation was “deeply saddened” to hear about the allegations and said Australian schools had not competed at world federation events in the past 20 years.
“The existence and prevalence of sexual violence is extremely concerning, and an unfortunately all too common part of society,” he said.
“I am extremely proud of the robust guidelines and frameworks that have been developed at a national and state level that ensure debating remains a forum for empowering people and interrogating the most pressing issues facing Australian society in safe and inclusive way.”
Women’s College at Sydney University
After a night out in Kings Cross with friends, Kate said she and Porter arrived at her lodgings at The Women’s College at the University of Sydney Newtown campus where the alleged assault occurred.
College principal Dr Tiffany Donnelly tells Crikey the championship was not an official University of Sydney or college event and took place during summer break.
“Today, whenever we provide accommodation for school groups, we have a range of requirements including the need for any non-adult visitors to be chaperoned by an appropriate ratio of teachers and nominated adult supervisors,” she said.
“This has been the practice for at least the past two decades. Our thoughts are with all those impacted.”
She added the college would cooperate with any investigation.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.