CONTENT WARNING: This article mentions and contains descriptions of child sexual abuse.

The Australian Press Council has found the Herald Sun newspaper breached its Standards Of Practice when it referred to sexual abuse by a teacher as ‘sex-ed’.

The Herald Sun printed an article on 22 February 2022 that reported on the sexual abuse of a minor by his then-teacher at a Victorian school in the 1990s. The article’s headline was “Out-of-school sex ed” and the subheading: “Female teacher admits violating boys”.

The article reported the case’s court proceedings and stated the teacher “pleaded guilty in the County Court on Friday to several counts of sexual penetration of a child under 16″ and that she “taught one victim how to perform sexual acts”.

The council, which is Australia’s principal body for responding to media complaints, received complaints that the headline was potentially harmful to sexual abuse survivors and minimised the perception of harm done by sexual abusers.

The council asked the News Corp-owned publication to show how the headline complied with the Council’s Standards of Practice. It asked the Herald Sun to prove the article and headline were factual and presented with reasonable fairness and balance (General Principle 3); and avoided causing offence, distress or prejudice, or a substantial risk to health and safety, without sufficient justification in the public interest (General Principle 6).

The publication argued the report was in the public interest and denied any possibility the headline could be harmful to survivors of abuse.

However, the council ruled the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material was presented with reasonable fairness and balance in breach of General Principle 3.

It noted that the use of the word “taught” in the article and describing such acts by a teacher as “sex-ed” diminished the seriousness of the conduct and the emotional effect on the victim. It concluded the publication was also in breach of General Principle 6.

The article is no longer on the Herald Sun website and it has published the verdict of the adjudication.

Image: Getty Images / Andrew Woodley