Woman who was sexually groomed calls for ban on teachers contacting students via social media

Christchurch woman Helena Dray is adamant there is no need for students and teachers to privately...
Christchurch woman Helena Dray is adamant there is no need for students and teachers to privately message each other. Photo: Supplied / Helena Dray
Warning: This article contains details that some may find distressing

A former student who was groomed and sexually abused by her teacher wants teachers banned from talking to students on social media.

Social media apps such as Snapchat and Facetime were significant factors leading to Helena Dray being groomed by her teacher Taurapa at Rangi Ruru School in Christchurch when she was 16.

She was part of a Snapchat group with a few other students which was initially for their Te Reo Māori class, until Taurapa started messaging her privately.

This led to her being pressured into sending nude images and videos of herself, followed by performing sexual acts on him, in secluded areas.

The now 21-year-old says there were no measures in place to stop students from connecting with teachers online.

"Nothing was done to prevent it, there were no talks to students about these specific things, there was just kind of a don't connect with teachers on social media. There were never any hard lines about it and it was really up to the discretion of teachers at the end of the day," Dray said.

Dray was adamant there was no need for students and teachers to privately message each other.

"I think the issue is with these apps where you can erase all of the previous messages, you can delete texts, you can erase call history, Snapchats disappear. But having a platform where the IT or the school department is able to have access to those records, I think that's really important."

In the past six years there have been 148 reports of sexual relationships between teachers and students, according to data obtained under the Official Information Act.

So far 21 teachers have had their registrations cancelled and 65 others had no further action taken against them.

In a statement, the Teaching Council said investigations into some complaints were ongoing and yet to have an outcome.

Prefect calls for stronger laws

Whanganui High School community prefect Holly Davies is also no stranger to sexual harassment over social media.

In four instances she was coerced over Snapchat to send nude images to young men aged between 17 and 19 when she was only 13.

One of them catfished her and threatened to expose her.

"They were able to screenshot the photos of me on Snapchat and then I had someone add me from another account and it was this guy and he had these photos of me. He was like, if you don't send more then I'm going to send these to everyone on your Instagram following," Davies said.

The 18-year-old recalled feeling weird after coming across a teacher in his early 20s on Tinder.

She wanted the new government to implement laws to prevent teachers and students from interacting over social media, because of the power imbalance.

She also wanted harsher penalties for teachers such as jail or community service for those who groomed students over 16.

"This makes me sick and I don't think the fact that you just lose your job is enough. I think there should be more consequences cause you're getting into something knowing that it has the potential to f*** up your job and f*** up somebody else's life."

Secondary Principals Association president Vaughan Couillault said if a student was over 16 - the age of consent - no law is broken.

"In terms of criminal behaviour, it doesn't default to police activity when there's a relationship say between a 17- or 18-year-old student and a teacher. It is, however, highly unethical and it isn't tolerated in terms of what society and our regulations require."

Couillault said having a teacher's registration cancelled was the ultimate price to pay.

But independent victim advocate Ruth Money agreed there should be tougher consequences such as the inability to change their name.

"These people are reinventing themselves and popping up at a different school or a different kura, and we see this. It is not uncommon to see someone teaching at two, three, four different schools before this stuff catches up on them," Money said.

She wanted an overhaul of the vetting process in the country such as allowing it to be free for schools.

"That should be done as business as usual, it should be in real time, someone could be being investigated or a charge could have happened but not a conviction. So the vetting needs to take into account all sorts of notations from youth justice as well as the adult system," Money said.

The Teaching Council said if a teacher resigned the school must immediately report any conduct or competence concerns that were raised in the previous 12 months.

Dray is pleading with other students who have gone through similar experiences to contact the council.

Where to get help:

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.