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COMMENT: Where is Australia’s consent education?

Stop+sexual+assault.+Image+first+used+by+The+World+University+Rankings+website
Stop sexual assault. Image first used by The World University Rankings website

Stop sexual assault. Image first used by The World University Rankings website

Stop sexual assault. Image first used by The World University Rankings website

Deakin University, Olivia Reed

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No means no.

And not saying no doesn’t mean yes.

Only saying yes actually means yes.

Rape culture is well and truly ingrained in our society. A society that considers itself a first-world country but thinks that when a girl says she’s been sexually assaulted it’s acceptable to ask them what they were wearing. As if, in some way, their choice of clothes was the reason they were assaulted.

The problem lies even deeper, I know among my group of 20-something-year-old friends that sexual assault is a grey-area term. When someone is violently held down and forced to have sex in a dark alleyway against their will, that is what is understood to be rape. People shouldn’t be left wondering if they’ve been raped or if they’re just being sensitive. There should be no debate about what sexual assault is, consent is black and white. Our society needs to understand consent so thoroughly that no one is ever left doubting if they’ve been sexually assaulted.

The Victorian Crimes Act 1958 s.38 defines rape as intentionally sexually penetrating another person without their consent or having reason to believe that there is consent. But for a lot of young people, the term ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’ becomes confusing when they wish to withdraw their consent after initially agreeing to a sexual encounter. This widespread confusion is the reason that Australia needs to teach high school students and young adults about exactly what sexual assault and rape is. Many Australians, even the middle-aged generation, gather their understanding of rape from TV shows or movies that show rape to be ultra-violent, with someone gagged and chained up. It is this depiction which leads people to believe that any type of sexual assault that is ‘less-severe’ than what they see on TV is not rape. But the fact remains that most people are not raped in dark alleyways by creepy strangers, Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that 87 per cent of women are sexually assaulted by a man they know.

Imagine this, you’re out clubbing with your friends, dancing along to the music, revelling in the darkness and the thrill of alcohol, when suddenly you’re groped by someone walking past you, but you don’t want to make a fuss so you say nothing. Sadly, sexual harassment and sexual assault are all too common in nightclubs, to the point where being groped or touched inappropriately is seen as part of a normal night out. La Trobe University researcher Bianca Fileborn’s survey about the prevalence of unwanted sexual attention found that, out of 230 young people, 96.6 per cent thought that unwanted sexual attention happened in licensed venues and 80.2 per cent viewed unwanted sexual attention as being common in Melbourne’s pubs and clubs. Now I can already hear a chorus of people saying, ‘well if you don’t want to be groped, don’t go out clubbing’, but this is precisely the victim-blaming attitude that shifts attention away from the problem of sexual assault and the fault of perpetrators. Consent education would fix this ignorance.

Victorian law recognises several scenarios which are inconsistent with consent, including the use of force, unlawful detainment, fear of harm, or if a person is asleep, unconscious or significantly drug or alcohol affected. But there is no mandatory education program in Australian high schools that teaches students about the precise situations where consent is invalid. High-school sex education programs barely delve deeper than the awkward labelling of body parts, putting a condom on a banana and talking about periods. Sexual education programs in Australian high schools are not teaching students beyond the ‘no means no’ mantra, which means that although students understand the premise of consent, they don’t understand that consent is never implied.

The ‘grey area’ surrounding consent is only compounded when these high school students become adults, go to university and continue to believe that a person verbally saying ‘no’ would be the only reason preventing them having sex. In light of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities, which found that one in five students were sexually harassed in a university setting in 2016, it is all too clear that high school consent education is crucial. Although many Australian universities have now made the Consent Matters training module available to students, many young people are likely to have already had their first sexual encounter by the time they’re at university, albeit without consent education. High school consent education has been highly successful in many countries, including America and Norway, and it is high time Australia caught up. The Tasmanian Government has allocated $400,000 in funding to establish a consent and sexual assault prevention program in some Tasmanian high schools until 2020, which is certainly a step in the right direction.  However, this program needs to be implemented in all high schools nationwide so that no young Australian can claim that they didn’t know they were raping someone.

While I believe rapists are bad people, I can’t help but wonder if a lack of consent education plays a small part in sexual assault. Perhaps there are people who genuinely don’t understand that not saying no doesn’t mean yes. Therefore, consent education will undoubtedly make the world a safer place. It will eliminate the ‘grey area’ around rape and sexual assault and demystify consent. Because, after all, rape culture has no place in our society.

No means no.

And not saying no doesn’t mean yes.

Only saying yes actually means yes.

This video is great but, warning, there is some strong language:

Video copyright © 2015 RockStarDinosaurPiratePrincess and Blue Seat Studios. Images are Copyright ©2015 Blue Seat Studios.

About the Writer
Deakin University, Melbourne, Victoria

Deakin University offers students the chance to study journalism units and degrees at undergraduate and post graduate level across its Melbourne and regional...

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