ACT schools caught in pornography ring
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ACT schools caught in pornography ring

Five ACT schools have been targeted in a pornography ring where teenage boys and young men are secretly exchanging graphic sexual images of female students.

Canberra College, Gungahlin College, Radford College, St Clare's College and St Mary McKillop College have been identified on the site.

More than 70 schools have been identified nationwide, according to a report on News Corp.

Young men use the site to target specific schools and regions, with hundreds of individual names on the list. Girls are then "hunted" with members of the pornography ring contributing personal details in the search for a "win", the term used for posting a nude photo.

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Meg Brighton, deputy director-general of the ACT Education Directorate, and Detective Acting Superintendent Marcus Boorman address a press conference regarding the allegations of a child pornography ring involving Canberra schools.

Meg Brighton, deputy director-general of the ACT Education Directorate, and Detective Acting Superintendent Marcus Boorman address a press conference regarding the allegations of a child pornography ring involving Canberra schools.Credit:Karen Hardy

More than 2000 images have been posted since the group began operating in December 2015.

ACT Policing said it had been aware of the website since Friday August 12 after initial complaints were made and investigations were in their early stages.

"We're working closely with our national and international counterparts and other relative government agencies to evaluate this matter and determine the appropriate courses of action," Detective Acting Superintendent Marcus Boorman said.

He said it had been confirmed the website was hosted off-shore and this made it a complex matter as Australian authorities did not have the power to shut the site down.

"These matters are very complex ... taking down a website that is not in Australia can be problematic but we're engaging with our international counterparts and other government agencies in an attempt to close the website down," he said.The matter had also been referred to the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner.

Deputy director-general of the ACT Education Directorate Meg Brighton said it was very concerning that Canberra schools had been targeted.

"I'm particularly concerned about the welfare of the young people who are targets of this website," she said.

She said the directorate's priority was the welfare of students and it would cooperate in any way with the police investigation.

Director of Catholic Education Moira Najdecki also expressed her concern for the welfare of students and urged people who might have any information to call ACT police.

Education Minister Shane Rattenbury said the ring was highly disturbing.

"The young men involved in this activity need to know that their behaviour is not only illegal but completely deplorable and as a community we must condemn this activity," Mr Rattenbury said.

"The fact that they have engaged in this activity against their peers is even more disturbing - these are their friends, girlfriends and sisters."

He said society should condemn any activity that harmed, victimised or threatened the safety of women or perpetuated rape culture.

"Our young men need to do better. What is devastating is that this is clearly a cultural issue and not an isolated event as it is occurring in schools across the country. Clearly more focus is needed on continuing to educate young men about how to treat women with respect," he said.

In a statement to parents on Tuesday night, acting principal of St Clare's College Natalie Dickie said the school would do all it could to keep parents informed.

"The college will communicate with all of you any further information as we receive it. Please understand also that whilst the privacy and dignity of some young and vulnerable people across the country has been disregarded, it will be respected by our college."

She was unaware if any photos of students had been posted but was aware the school had been targeted. She also outlined the school's proactive approach to addressing cybersafety.

Radford College released a statement to parents saying it took a zero-tolerance approach to such behaviour.

"The college stands ready to cooperate fully in any investigation by the authorities responsible for investigating these matters," the statement said.

"Radford College takes a zero-tolerance approach to behaviour of this nature, which stands in stark contrast to the values and culture not just of the school, but the broader community supporting it."

Canberra College released a statement to parents saying it was devastating to see the school mentioned and the suggestion that students could be participating in the ring was completely unacceptable.

Principal George Palavestra recognised that while students accessed a wide range of digital material outside the school environment the school had a "responsibility to ensure that students are engaging in safe and respectful relationships with others regardless of the context".

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the federal minister for women, Michaela Cash, are being urged to shut down the website by any means.

A Change.org petition by The Red Heart Campaign is calling on the federal government step in and put an end to the "vile and misogynistic" forum.

"If Mr Turnbull and Ms Cash are serious about encouraging respectful male behaviour towards Australian women and girls, they need to take a stand by punishing the men who operate this group and the males who contribute to it," the petition reads.

"Everyone involved in this forum must be shown there is no place in our society for men and boys who treat women and girls like sex trophies."

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ACT Police are urging anyone with information that may assist their inquiries to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

Karen Hardy is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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