A Supreme Court jury in Melbourne last week awarded a teenage girl $490,000 (pound;197,000) in damages because her former primary teachers failed to detect that she was being sexually abused.
In the first case of its kind in Australia, the 17-year-old sued the Victoria state government, claiming that the principal and deputy of the school she attended 10 years ago did not act during the time she was being raped by her stepfather.
The jury found the teachers had breached the duty of care they owed the girl. While she was in grade 3, aged seven, the girl had made sexually explicit drawings in class and had shown mood swings and poor behaviour but had never said what was happening at home.
The deputy principal admitted to police that she had noticed suspicious symptoms in the girl but did not report that she thought the pupil was being sexually molested.
The Australian education union sid training in detecting child abuse was urgently needed. State president of the union, Mary Bluett, said teachers received only one-and-a-half hours of training after the Government introduced mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse in 1995.
"This case pre-dates mandatory reporting but it gives an urgency to teachers' concerns that they are not adequately trained," Ms Bluett said. She said the ruling confirmed that a school's duty of care extended outside its gate.
Don Tyers, Victoria's acting director of schools, said the court decision raised questions about students disclosing personal details to teachers.
The judge told the jury the step-
father had been convicted in 1997 of five counts of rape and one count of indecent assault. The jury found that he and the girl's mother should be held accountable and that the state could recoup the compensation from them.