When Schoolies is a nightmare
THE haunting words of a young girl still send a chill up the spine of Gold Coast social worker Dominic Mapstone.
"I've just been raped, help me."
It's every parent's worst nightmare as Schoolies Week approaches and their teenage sons and daughters prepare to let off some steam after finishing from high school.
The world is their oyster but sometimes celebrations go horribly wrong.
"The worst thing I've seen is a girl who approached us and said 'I've just been raped, help me'," recalled Mr Mapstone, who has provided assistance to Schoolies on the Gold Coast since 1994.
With an estimated 50,000 school leavers descending on the tourist strip over a two-week period from today, police and social workers are bracing to be inundated with sexual assault and violence cases.
The biggest danger for young women is sexual predators lured to the glitzy Gold Coast to prey on their victims, who are often vulnerable due to the effects of alcohol.
"It's people that come to the Gold Coast knowing there'll be tens of thousands of drunk and inexperienced girls who are the problem," Mr Mapstone said.
Mapstone and his colleagues roam the streets of Surfers Paradise to help protect young women, patrolling dark alleys and sand dunes in an attempt to prevent sexual assaults.
If they see any shady characters or suspicious behaviour they report it to police, who often stumble across other unlawful activity while searching the suspects.
"There is a side effect," Mr Mapstone said.
"Quite a few people got done for drugs last year because we were highlighting those quite conspicuously there to cause trouble."
Mapstone vividly recalls the horrific scenes on the Gold Coast in 2002 when mainly 'toolies' older gatecrashers who are often blamed for violent incidents clashed with police.
"It was the equivalent of rioting," he recalled.
"Police were being attacked and SES were stretchering people out of the crowd who were covered in blood. It was all pretty gory."
Since then, the state government has intervened to boost police numbers for the annual event and recently established the Schoolies Week management board, which has a brief to create a "footprint" for all future Schoolies events.