Not as simple as ‘no means no’: what young people need to know about consent

Source: The Conversation,  Jacqueline Hendriks, 23 February 2021

A recent petition circulated by Sydney school girl Chanel Contos called for schools to provide better education on consent, and to do so much earlier.

In the petition, which since Thursday has been signed by more than 5,000 people, Contos writes that her school

… provided me with life changing education on consent for the first time in year 10. However, it happened too late and came with the tough realisation that amongst my friends, almost half of us had already been raped or sexually assaulted by boys from neighbouring schools.

So, what core information do young people need to know about consent? And is the Australian curriculum set up to teach it?

What’s in the curriculum?

This is not the first time young people have criticised their school programs. Year 12 student Tamsin Griffiths recently called for an overhaul to school sex education after speaking to secondary students throughout Victoria. She advocated for a program that better reflects contemporary issues.

Australia’s health and physical education curriculum does instruct schools to teach students about establishing and maintaining respectful relationships. The resources provided state all students from year 3 to year 10 should learn about matters including:

  • standing up for themselves
  • establishing and managing changing relationships (offline and online)
  • strategies for dealing with relationships when there is an imbalance of power (including seeking help or leaving the relationship)
  • managing the physical, social and emotional changes that occur during puberty
  • practices that support reproductive and sexual health (contraception, negotiating consent, and prevention of sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne viruses)
  • celebrating and respecting difference and diversity in individuals and communities.

Despite national guidance, there is wide variability in how schools interpret the curriculum, what topics they choose to address and how much detail they provide. This is further compounded by a lack of teacher training.

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