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Leanne Sebastian

Consent education

By Leanne Sebastian, St Monica's College​


Have you ever had a milkshake thrown at your face? Even if you didn’t want it, were you told to ‘drink it, drink it all’? According to the Australian Government, this is what the lack of consent looks like.

If you haven’t already heard of the recent scandal, the federal government has introduced a new ‘Respect Matters’ campaign in order to promote consent education to schools in Australia. From the $7.8 million budget, half the money was allocated to a shocking video that taught sex consent through milkshakes. According to the government’s public contract database, the Department of Education paid a digital media agency nearly $3.8m to create the campaign. But the money isn’t the problem. The money never was the problem. It was the confusing video, where a young woman smeared a milkshake over a young man’s face while telling him to drink it all. It was the confusing video that drew comparisons between ‘getting pizza’ and ‘can I touch your butt?’

Today, I would like to address the growing consent crisis, and the government’s lack of readiness to address this issue in our current society. The current assumptions around consent and respectful relationships are having a detrimental effect on society and now, we are seeing these tainted definitions bleed into the younger generations, students like me! For clarification, Victoria’s Department of Education and Training defines consent as the free and voluntary agreement to participate in an act. Therefore, it is understood that sexual consent is the voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.

You would think these definitions are crystal clear and pretty self-explanatory, but unfortunately, the 30% increase in sexual assault victimisation from 2010-2018 stated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics says otherwise. This year, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority announced changes to the national Health and Physical Education curriculum regarding respectful relationships. The first time we are taught about consent comes around Years 7 or 8, where students are asked to examine how respect, consent, empathy, and valuing diversity can influence the nature of relationships. In Years 9 and 10, this expands to include the role of power and strategies for challenging disrespectful attitudes. But of course, this is the Australian curriculum, and how this content is delivered and interpreted is up to the schools’ and teachers’ discretion.

Much like the game ‘Chinese Whispers’, what comes through one ear, may not be delivered in the same way to the next. Regardless of the age, all students are impressionable minds, subject to the teaching of their mentors and professors. Furthermore, the likelihood of these children learning about consent for the first time in school is exponentially high.To those who may argue that schools should not be replacing the duty of the parent to prepare their children for such social dilemmas, I say to you, you are ignorant. With the increase in work hours due to the need of financial aid, and the amount of time children spend at school, there is less leeway between the amount of time that both the parents and children are at home together.

Additionally, let’s not forget that while educators are provided with the resources and tools to tackle this issue, many parents would be under-prepared and untrained in comparison. Students spend a better portion of their day at school. Approximately from the age of 5, children are exposed to a community of people wider than their immediate families, which instantly makes them vulnerable to dangerous situations. Therefore, if the parents are preoccupied, and if the schools are not providing adequate information, we are essentially leaving a deer in headlights!

Why are we not doing anything about this? Why are we waiting for a news outlet to report a horrible example this lack of information can lead to?

Victoria is the education state, after all. So why are we not leading in consent education?

Look no further than our very own federal government to find your answer.

Last year, 25-year-old Brittany Higgins was betrayed by her own team in one of the highest esteemed institutions in Australia. She was raped in our very own Parliament House. What is to become of the usual ‘he said, she said’ debate, we are yet to find out, but this story is enough to prove that consent education is needed now more than ever. Brittany’s story is enough to prove that there is a problem.

I can assure you that our hesitancy to address this issue will be the reason why little boys think they can pick on little girls. Our hesitancy will be the reason why teenage girls feel the need to cover up and conceal their sexuality in public settings. Our hesitancy will be the reason why a woman thinks it is okay to be beaten and overpowered by her husband. Of course, this goes both ways, but it is scientifically proven by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that it leans more towards violence against women. Brittany Higgins was just one name, one person. Following her came, Julia Banks, Kate Sullivan, Jamila Rizvi and since writing this speech god knows how many more. I wish we could take a second to understand the gravity of this situation, but the time is ticking and I. Am. Not. Done.

This could easily be avoided in future by investing in consent education now and shaping future generations to be better. If we don’t take action at this formative stage, this will consequently influence our adult lives and shape our mentalities for the worse. In layman’s terms, we will be repeating yet another generation of ignorant, uneducated, and narrow-minded members of society.

Schools have an obligation to educate future citizens on more than merely academics.

Cultural conventions and social attitudes are formed in schools, which means that this is the time to inform the future MPs, Judges, Police officers and leaders of Australia. It is not enough to make consent education ‘mandatory’. No. The government needs to supply schools with quality resources and training to ensure that they can carry out this initiative effectively. To ensure that students like me are equipped with the right kind of knowledge.

So, it’s not about milkshakes. It’s not about pizza, and it certainly is not as childish as touching butts. This is consent education. And we need to treat it with the appropriateness, seriousness and respect it deserves. Thank you.