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Push to make sexual consent education compulsory in Australian curriculum to curb abuse

Closeup of a girl's hand. The girl is wearing a blue-checkered school dress.
Push to make sexual consent education compulsory in Australian curriculum to curb abuse

Stephanie * was only in her mid-teens when her older and more experienced girlfriend pressured her to watch porn and perform “increasingly degrading” sex acts.

Warning: This article contains reports of sexual assault that may concern some readers.

“He was very fussy,” Stephanie said.

“I did not know what was going on. I was never taught about consent in school.”

Stephanie is not the only one.

Survivors and advocates of sexual assault say that consent teaching should be compulsory, explicit about intimate matters and taught much earlier in all Australian schools.

And as the Australian curriculum undergoes a once-in-six-year review, they believe the opportunity for change is now.

Teach us consent

Chanel Contos says that consent must be mandatory and taught in an explicit way for romantic relationships.(

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In February 2021, then-university student Chanel Contos asked on Instagram: “Have you or has anyone close to you ever been sexually assaulted by someone who went to a single sex school in Sydney?”

In the six months since, her website, “Teach Us Consent”, has received more than 6,000 testimonies, and around 43,000 people have previously signed her petition for consent to be included in Australian school sex education.

“The majority of the signatories are now in university or in their first year of the workforce,” Ms Contos said.

“They understand all too well the long-term effects of sexual abuse not only on the victim but on their friends, family and the wider community, so they are in favor of younger generations receiving the education they were either deprived of or received too much. sent. “

On Thursday, the Teach Us Consent convened a round table where experts, political leaders and people with lived experience gathered to discuss how respectful education in relationships, sex and consent is best included in the national curriculum.

Ms Contos said consent should be mandatory and taught in an explicit way for romantic relationships, while teaching children about sex in biology in years 7, 8, 9 and 10.

“We can save school-age children from experiencing sexual violence by introducing holistic, well-founded sex education earlier in the Australian national curriculum,” she said.

Stephanie agrees.

She said in school that they “learned absolutely nothing” except basic biology and watched videos of women giving birth.

“I really thought sexual assault was like someone jumping out from behind a bush in a park and sexually assaulting you,” she said.

“I did not know that sexual assault could look like someone pushing you and pushing you and pushing you until you change your mind.

Rape and Domestic Violence Australia’s CEO Hayley Foster said the consequences of sexual assault can be lifelong, especially for the victim.

“Children as young as 10 receive their sex education from ordinary pornography, the vast majority of which portray aggressive, non-consensual, violent and degrading behavior, and we are not in favor of giving them a reality check,” she said. Said Foster.

“Through our passivity, we put young people at risk and steal their future in the process.”

Consent and sex education ‘mixed bag’ in Australia

ABC asked Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge if he would use the current rewriting of the Australian curriculum to include teaching permission more explicitly.

In a statement, the Department of Education said the current curriculum covers relationships and sexuality, including respectful online relationships and online safety, and a review is underway of final changes that all federal, state and territorial ministers must accept later in the year.

NSW says it is leading the way, with consent included in the curriculum for both public and private schools. State Education Secretary Sarah Mitchell said consent should be taught “early and explicitly” and that the national curriculum should reflect it “for a cultural shift across the country”.

Victoria and Queensland have made consent teaching compulsory – but only in public schools. Victoria’s Education Minister James Merlino said 384 non-state schools, out of a total of 723, have now signed up for their Respectful Relationships initiative.

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Associate Professor Christopher Fisher of the Australian Research Center for Sex Health and Society, La Trobe University, said the curriculum’s political landscape was “confusing”.

“So the challenge we have is that we have a very vague policy and curriculum landscape across Australia that does not clearly formulate one that consent teaching is required as part of relationships and sexual education,” he said.

“And two, what do the details of that consent training require?”

He said to further complicate matters, while schools were bound by the Australian curriculum, states were ultimately responsible for how they delivered it.

“But to have [consent education] in the national curriculum sets a standard for states and territories to then act on, “he said.

Dr. Fisher said teaching sex education and consent in Australian schools remained a “mixed bag”, with states often unable to mandate it in private schools.

“We have up to half of our children in private and Catholic schools,” he said.

“… Who cares then [the private schools] to accounting to ensure that every Australian receives training in consent?

“In general, relationships and sex education are not a topic of great effort. We do not follow up by saying, ‘Have you actually learned what we have been trying to teach you?'”

Dr Fisher is also the lead researcher on the National Survey of Secondary Students and Sexual Health in Australia, conducted since 1992.

Currently, researchers are in the process of collecting fresh data, where teenagers are specifically asked about consent teaching for the first time.

He said the preliminary results showed that 15 per cent of young people in Australia had never had a teacher to talk about consent teaching.

“So there are a good number of young people who have not even had consent education in Australia,” said Dr. Fisher.

“And then for those who’ve had it, we asked them to tell us how good it was … we look up at about 25 percent who say it was average to poor.”

One of the challenges, said Dr. Fisher, was that although the Australian curriculum affected consent, it did so in a broader context.

“So it has not necessarily always been specific to relationships, sexual consent,” he said.

He said the Australian curriculum should be really explicit about teaching sexual consent.

“And that’s really important because we consistently see about 25 percent of young people, indicating that they’ve had an unwanted sexual experience. Some of them were compulsive and borderline, or included sexual violence,” said Dr. Fisher.

“But then … we actually had young people telling us they just did not know how to say no.”

Learned about consent through ‘TV movies’

Penny * was not even a teenager when a teacher became particularly interested in her.

“I was someone who had a hard home life and he was playing on those vulnerabilities,” she said.

“He started contacting me outside of class and took me out to lunch. Helped me with my homework.”

High school students (Brisbane State High School) go to school.
Lawyers say that consent teaching in schools should be explicitly about intimate relationships.(

ABC News: Chris Gillette

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Penny said her predator almost became like a father figure. But he had other things on his mind.

“At first it was little things like kissing on the head,” she said.

“When I was older, it went on to touch and grope my bottom and breasts.

“The thing about nursing is that he had forced me to believe it was normal and it was ok.”

Penny said consent was not something she heard talked about in school.

“I actually don’t remember knowing the word consent until I was maybe around 11 or 12,” she said.

“Consent is the awareness of your own power over yourself. You have the right to say no.

Phil Lambert is the acting chairman of Our Watch, an organization focused on preventing violence against women and their children in Australia. He is also the former General Manager of the Australian Curriculum.

A bald middle-aged man wearing a blue pin-striped suit and polka dot dark tie smiles at the camera.
Dr. Phil Lambert says the word consent does not exist in the current Australian curriculum.(

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Dr. Lambert said the word “consent” was not mentioned in the current national curriculum. He said the draft amendments contained it, but it was still too ambiguous.

“Respectful relationships are a big issue, and [lack of it] ultimately leading to the tragedy we hear on our radio on our television every week about another woman killed.

“Ultimately, it’s all about respectful relationships, and consent is a clear element of it, especially when it comes to violent sexual behavior.”

Names have been changed to protect identity.

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