Melbourne school leavers Sarah Wolff (left), Nicola Barca, Joey Hentschke, Grace Gaylard (front) and Gabriella Bilotto, believe that Byron Bay is much safer for schoolies than the Gold Coast.
Melbourne school leavers Sarah Wolff (left), Nicola Barca, Joey Hentschke, Grace Gaylard (front) and Gabriella Bilotto, believe that Byron Bay is much safer for schoolies than the Gold Coast. Kate O’Neill

Schoolie safety in numbers

THE alleged sexual assault of one of their own has left many schoolies at Byron Bay in shock, but it has not affected their plans or their perception of personal safety at the popular party destination.

Most schoolies The Northern Star spoke to yesterday had not heard about the alleged assault of a 17-year-old Melbourne girl on Byron Bay’s Main Beach on Monday night. Police arrested an 18-year-old man from country Victoria on Tuesday morning, and later charged him with sexual assault, indecent assault and assault.

When told the news, most were surprised it could have happened in a well-lit area with so many other people around.

“If it was down an alley or something it would be less of a shock. But it’s pretty scary because everyone is down here (Main Beach),” said Joey Hentschke, of Melbourne.

Joey and her friends said they chose Byron Bay for their end-of-school celebrations because of its relaxed vibe and the lack of macho and aggressiveness that Gold Coast celebrations had come to be known for.

Monday night’s alleged attack has not changed their views.

“Compared to the Gold Coast, we think this is so much safer,” Joey said.

Girls at schoolies said sexual assaults were common everywhere and incidents that occurred during schoolies were often ‘blown up’ by the media.

But they agreed it was important to stay safety conscious, especially during alcohol-fuelled schoolies celebrations.

“We always stay in a group – it’s common sense to stay together,” Gabriella Bilotto said.

Other schoolies agreed. Chloe Jenkins, Milly Goodearl and Sarah Normet, all of Manly, said they were following the same rules they did at home. “No one goes off on their own, or if they do, they take a phone,” Milly said. “If we’re hanging out with boys we bring them back to our place rather than going to theirs. It’s about being street smart.”

Schoolies said they had been well briefed on how to stay safe by their parents, police and by those at the schoolies hub in Byron Bay.

They also praised the Red Frogs, a group who support schoolies by doing drive and walk-homes at night and watching out for schoolies who may be in trouble.

Byron Bay schoolies hub co-ordinator Nicqui Yazdi said Monday’s alleged assault was an ‘unfortunate, but so far isolated incident’ and this year’s schoolie safety plan was working.

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