Wednesday, 20 Oct 2021

Jail for former Geelong College music teacher who abused student

A former Geelong College music teacher who sexually abused a student two decades ago, both at the school and in a public park, has been jailed for 5½ years.

Mark Irwin groped an 11-year-old boy during a singing lesson in 2000, and the following year violently sexually assaulted him when the pair met by chance at a park near the Barwon River.

Irwin, the school’s former director of music, was this year found guilty by a County Court jury of indecently assaulting a child and two counts of sexual penetration of a child, and on Tuesday he was jailed. He must serve three years before he is eligible for parole.

Irwin, now 65, was in his 40s when he abused the boy.

He was a well-regarded, long-time music teacher at Geelong College until he was suspended by the school when charges were laid in 2018. A letter sent by the school to parents this year says Irwin never returned to teach at the college after his suspension.

Judge Michael Bourke said the victim was an adult and was aware of hearings for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse when he was shocked to learn Irwin still taught at Geelong College, so he contacted the school and police.

The victim was 12 when, in the first half of 2001, he was riding his bicycle near the Barwon and by chance met Irwin in a public park. The teacher took the boy to a toilet block and repeatedly sexually assaulted him over 30 minutes, causing the boy physical pain.

Over the following years, the victim abused alcohol and drugs, self-harmed and allowed himself to be “victimised” by sexual predators as he struggled with the trauma. He never fulfilled his childhood ambition of becoming a teacher.

“There were and are still powerful feelings of worthlessness, depression, anxiety and anger,” Judge Bourke said. “He remembers the pain of not being able to tell people, particularly his parents.”

Judge Bourke said Irwin’s crimes were serious and exploitative, targeting a vulnerable young victim. Irwin had betrayed the trust put in him by the boy and his family, and the school.

The judge acknowledged prison would be onerous for the former teacher, who this year underwent treatment for prostate cancer, while his partner suffered from heart problems.

Geelong College said in a statement it was sorry for the abuse the victim and other children suffered as students at the school.

Irwin’s sentence comes in the same month that another former student was awarded $2.7 million over Geelong College’s handling of sexual abuse he suffered from 1988. That former student was abused by Bert Palframan, who volunteered in the school’s woodwork and craft area.

On Tuesday, the school said: “We recognise the harmful effects of sexual abuse upon our former students, and we continue our committed endeavours to support each survivor of abuse with care, sensitivity and dignity, and in the manner most appropriate for their healing.”

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