There is a current movement in Australia for schools to become more accountable to the disturbing data on sexual assault rates occurring in these environments. According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, “in 2018–19, the majority of sexual assault offenders recorded by police were male (97%); males aged 15–19 had the highest offender rates.” The average person might not normally connect schools and adolescents with the highest rates of sexual assault, but it is an unfortunate reality for many young women in Australia.
The majority of sexual assault offenders recorded by police were male (97%); males aged 15–19.”
Teaching youth about sexual education, boundaries, and sexual consent is something that may provoke uncomfortable feelings. It has become clear that the previous case-by-case method of resolving sexual assault issues as they arose is not proving to be effective. The biggest issue that is the source of debate currently is whether schools should be required to teach students about sexual consent and at how young of an age that type of sexual education curriculum should be introduced to curb the disastrous statistics.
It is reported that Australia has a rather high number of private schools. The higher number of private schools has led in part to some of the issues related to a lack of education in schools about sexual education. There is currently a campaign launched through social media platforms aimed at getting schools to teach students about sexual consent at lower grade levels.
The new campaign titled, ‘Teach Us Consent,’ hopes to provide more early age discussions about appropriate boundaries, healthy relationships, and taking the awkwardness out of sexual education. The campaign was created by female students who wanted to highlight the common and vast experiences of other female students and their sexual assault narratives. Creators of the campaign were struck by common themes heard by others and the differences in sexual education taught in Australian schools versus other nations.
The motivation to begin the campaign came from hearing enough stories from friends about sexual assault. The ‘Teach Us Consent’ campaign provides a platform for over 4,000 personal stories about sexual assault and rape, highlighting the extreme necessity of changes needed at the national level. The campaign is gathering signatures as a petition to get lawmakers to force schools to add mandatory curriculum surrounding sexual consent.
As a reactionary step forward, as national and international news outlets highlighted the recent awareness campaigns about sexual consent, politicians have begun introducing policy changes. New laws and initiatives are aimed at making it mandatory for schools to discuss sexual education and sexual consent to both boys and girls at younger ages. Under the federal government’s ‘Respect Matters’ Initiative, schools are required to implement a new overarching curriculum for children starting at the age of four or five years old (kindergarten).
The idea behind the new initiative mandates is to first start educating children on respect and positive social interactions. The next step is to educate children on texting, sexting, healthy romantic relationships, and bullying. Sexual consent does not become a discussion topic until later in secondary school. In regard to adolescents, the discussion about sexual consent begins around age fifteen.
Supporters of the ‘Teach Us Consent’ campaign challenge that sexual consent should be taught in primary school (age 6 to 11) rather than waiting for secondary school. The statistics of fifteen- to nineteen-year-old males being the highest population of sexual assault offenders, provides a clear message about why teaching sexual consent at age 15 is not adequate enough to curb the underlying issues. Many large organisations assisted the federal government in creating a curriculum and resource portal for implementing the new school curriculum changes.
The new ‘Respect Matters’ initiative also launched a dedicated website that contains over three hundred resources available to parents, teachers, and community members. The website portal is called, “The Good Society.” The website resource portal is divided into three focus groups, primary school (up to age twelve), secondary school (up to age fifteen), and high school (fifteen to eighteen). Again, sexual consent does not reach children until the last tier of age groups which is counterintuitive to statistics of sexual assault in the country.
With the campaigns, petitions, and initiatives, schools argue that the discussions around sexual education and sexual consent should start with parents at home. The federal government’s ‘Respect Matters’ resource portal provides a resource page for parents to begin these discussions. With the counterarguments made by schools that these discussions should start at home, parents will either need to click on teacher resources or do their own internet searching for appropriate ways to communicate sexual consent to their children.
Regardless of how parents begin sexual education and when they start those conversations, parents should start talking to their children about sex as early as possible. For the simple fact of getting over the awkwardness and embarrassment of sexual-themed conversations, start talking about these topics before kids are able to respond. If eliminating the awkwardness of such discussion topics helps stop sexual assault of women, then it is imperative that these discussions are held at many different environments that children inhabit for a large period of their daily lives.
In conclusion, while the Australian government has made strides to help stop the alarming statistics of adolescent girls being sexually assaulted, there remains work to be done. The federal government’s own statistics point out flaws in the curriculum delivery based on topics, themes, and associated age groups. Not only is it imperative to teach children about sexual consent within the school, it is also imperative to have parents approach these topics with their children within the home.