Hideous problem Australia must face up to
WARNING: Distressing content
This week thousands of teenagers have exposed a hideous side of growing up in Australia that, until now, had been hidden from the public eye.
Perhaps what is most shocking about the sickening allegations of sexual abuse and rape among worryingly young people in our schools - uncovered in a viral petition by Sydneysider Chanel Contos - is that they are only seeing the light of day now, in many cases years after the incident had taken place.
Many of them expressed in their testimonies the deep shame and trauma they carried with them for a significant period of time before they dared tell anyone.
Many former students say they still haven't told some of their closest friends and family members about what they had been through in school.
Being a teenager is awkward enough for most of us, but to be subjected to the humiliation that some of these young people have endured, to have images and videos of their assaults posted on social media and on porn websites, is unimaginable.
As Ms Contos told me in an interview earlier this week, the pain of what has happened to these victims never really goes away.
They keep the shame so close to their hearts that only now, in an anonymous online forum, they feel as if they can open up.
Now that they have, it's uncovered something deeply uncomfortable that we should find the time to talk about as a society.
Ms Contos' petition began in Sydney and - since that's where she grew up and attended an elite all-girls school - that's the setting in which many of the initial testimonies came from.
Certain elite institutions in the city's wealthier suburbs were mentioned time and time again, and the picture they paint of growing up in these supposedly classy parts of the world are not pretty.
They show the side of school life that is not shown on glossy brochures handed out to parents who fork out eye-watering fees to send their children there for a first-rate education.
In the all-boys schools students as young as 13 seem to proudly display a chauvinistic club-like mentality. Large groups of lads appear to view girls merely as objects of lust or targets they can pick off at will.
Their hunting ground is at large parties often in vacant multimillion-dollar homes which - for reasons unknown to me, they are given free rein over by their parents.
The girls, who are often massively outnumbered by boys when they arrive at these parties are greeted with copious amounts of alcohol and drugs.
Once the girls are sufficiently plastered, the boys then take it upon themselves to rape or sexually assault the girls while they are unconscious or force them to perform oral sex while they have no idea what they're doing.
In many cases pictures of the attacks are then posted online and between friends to serve as an ultimate humiliation to the victim. In some circumstances the victim has no idea what happened until they hear the whisperings in school the following week.
At all-girls schools, the images are shared around peers leading to bullying and vicious nicknames for the victims. They go to school every morning with the dread of knowing all eyes are on them.
The testimonies show that for the boys who have taken part in the sharing of the images or the attack itself, the incident is merely a "funny story" or just another crazy incident at their wild parties.
As some of the testimonies point out, some of them have gone on to have immensely successful careers. There's no doubt - given the quality of their education - at least some of them will go on to have influential positions in society.
The victims meanwhile have to live with the pain and trauma of the incident for the rest of their lives.
Some have contacted me in emails this week, saying that because they were intoxicated at the time of the incident, they felt they had no grounds to take the complaint up with police.
One victim told me the policeman she spoke laughed when she told him she was drunk at the time of the incident
"He said I didn't have a chance and may as well forget about it," she added.
Perhaps what is even more shocking, as Ms Contos points out in her petition, is that many of the victims didn't even know something criminal had happened until they were taught about consent.
In some cases that was much later in their lives and by then it was too late.
I have done a series of stories this week that have looked at some of the common themes in the testimonies - there are now more than 3000 of them in total - in an attempt to understand some of the issues that are exacerbating this disturbing culture in Australian schools.
An education expert told me that Australia's disproportionate number of single sex schools compared to other developed nations may have a role to play.
I've been contacted by readers who say they believe the acts committed by these boys are a symptom of an elite bubble of privilege.
If they are brought up with parents telling them every day how great they are and how they can have everything they want in life from the day they are born, is it any wonder that they can't take "no" for an answer when it comes to sex?
Well, while it's true that many elite schools have been mentioned time and again in the testimonies, Ms Contos tells me that - now her petition has gone further afield - victims from all backgrounds and from across the entire nation have come forward.
In other words it's too simplistic to suggest that it only happens because of the entitlement of some privileged boys in elite schools that most of us would struggle to afford to send our kids to anyway. In other words, this is everywhere.
Head teachers at the all-boys schools that have been repeatedly mentioned have raised other issues like easy access to hardcore pornography.
Nicholas Sampson, the headmaster at Cranbrook in Sydney put a comprehensive list of the challenges posed to this generation of young people.
"We are aware of the rapidly changing contours of adolescence and the potential for damage brought by a combination of forces such as easily available alcohol, illicit drugs, a lack of supervision at parties and other social events, the premature sexualisation and objectification of girls and boys, precocious consumerism and, perhaps most pernicious and undermining of all, readily accessible pornography, which displaces love and distorts impressionable views of relationships, respect for others and self-worth," he said.
"This generation of young people enjoys many advantages but, equally, faces many new challenges which we all must help them to overcome."
While it is easy to kick the schools or even the parents of boys involved in these incidents, and say that they should do more, Mr Sampson has got a point.
The world is a very different place to when I was in school, and I'm just 31. It doesn't seem that Australia's sex education has caught up to the world that our teenagers are living in.
Ms Contos believes that holistic sexuality education earlier in the curriculum is a vital weapon in fighting the damaging influences on our young minds.
Her movement is growing massively by the day. Her petition has 22,600 signatures and she has won over some political support already.
Whatever your opinion is on what causes it - apart from a small minority of idiots who have contacted me this week saying it's apparently all the fault of the victims for drinking too much - it is clear that something has gone horribly wrong in the minds of our schoolchildren.
We should all be talking about what can be done to address it.
The worst possible outcome is that nothing changes and the victims continue to suffer in silence, as they had done for so many years before this watershed moment.
Now they have broken their silence, they have broken through the veil that covered this seedy underworld in our schools for far too long.
It's time to start a national conversation about what we can do to ensure our children never have to endure this torment again.
You can sign Ms Contos' petition here
Join the conversation, follow @bengrahamjourno on Twitter
Originally published as Hideous problem Australia must face up to