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Milkshakes won’t end rape: Government consent education fails once again

Demanding better sex and consent education.

Last week, after two years of planning and preparation, the Liberal government released The Good Society website with 350 videos and many written resources for school teachers to provide sex and consent education to school children from kindergarten to Year 12. These resources are the fruition of the two-year-long, $3.7 million Respect Matters campaign. To say they are disappointing is an understatement. The University of Sydney Women’s Collective demands better sex and consent education than the shambles released by the Liberal government this week.

Several main videos have fallen under public scrutiny, including three which aimed to cover the topics of consent, STI prevention, and sexual violence. Notably, no explicit mention of these terms was to be heard. Instead, these videos were heavily censored, using confusing examples and silly euphemisms that failed to clearly explain the topics at hand and trivialised sexual violence. Consent was ‘explained’ through milkshakes, and sexual assault was compared to tacos. Trivialising and censoring these conversations only further stigmatises sexual violence and survivors. 

We are informed and experienced activists in the anti-sexual violence campaign. If we ourselves struggle to decode these videos on sharks, milkshakes, and tacos, then how are these messages supposed to reach the school children they are aimed at? 

Consent is not complicated, but simple. These videos specifically are aimed at late teenagers who are largely already having sex. Despite this, explicit mentions of sex are sidelined and skirted around until the final module of the Year 10-12 content, in which it is only covered in two of the eight topics. Teenagers don’t need confusing messages or misinformation on sex, as exemplified in these videos. Rather, they need proper, thorough sex and consent education from experienced educators. Clouding conversations on sex and consent does not teach respectful relationships nor prevent sexual violence. The rape crisis that universities, workplaces, and — as we have seen over these past few weeks — Parliament face will not be curbed without direct, holistic conversations in schools that treat young people like real people. 

As it stands, each module within the Year 10-12 program opens with a condescending voice over-explaining topics in an overly simplified and trivialised manner, talking down to teenagers who already have a vast array of lived experience in sex and relationships. This does little to expand on the current experience of exceptionally limted sex education within NSW public schools, which places a detrimentally low emphasis on sex itself. The government seems not to trust teenagers enough to incorporate sex and consent education clearly and concisely in their lives. These videos harmfully assume not only that teenagers don’t engage in sex, but that they don’t know, or aren’t themselves, survivors. 

The depictions of relationships within this material are deeply anchored within cisnormativity and heteronormativity, and actively abstain from any representation of gender nonconformity or queerness, even within their designated module on gender. This comes as no surprise, but of great concern within the present context of Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill which attacks and silences transgender children and educators within schools. The Good Society is part of the newest attempt to erase and other trans and queer youth.

When WoCo spoke with Georgia Carr, one of USyd’s own previous Sexual Harassment Officers who is currently studying her PhD in sex education, Carr said that expert-led information on sex and consent already exists:

“The problem with getting comprehensive sex education into every school isn’t a lack of teaching materials, it’s that our teachers need time, training and trust: They need time to make sure they’re up to date on any changes (e.g. changes to consent laws, or the introduction of The Australian Curriculum in recent years) and time to familiarise themselves with new material. They need training so that they feel knowledgeable and confident about their topic. And they need trust because they fear community and media backlash – we only have to look back to 2016 and the political firestorm around Safe Schools to see why one teachers might be afraid to talk about issues of sex and sexuality in schools.”

Where the money spent on The Good Society should have gone is towards supporting teachers. Teachers in this country are overworked, underpaid, and constantly criticised. Like Georgia says, the moral panic of the Safe Schools program and the Religious Discrimination Bill proves how heavily scrutinised teachers are, and shows that right-wing ideology is valued and upheld over children’s safety and learning in schools. It is passionate teachers that are supported, well-resourced, and given autonomy that ensure effective sex education; not drawn out metaphors about milkshakes.

The stifling of research-backed, holistic sex education from experienced educators reminds us of our own university management which defunded USyd’s own Radical Sex and Consent Week, and are now dragging their feet as WoCo tries to bring this essential education back. This is the same university which has been proven time and time again to have a rape epidemic by reports such as The Red Zone Report. Another survey being conducted right now is again researching its severity. Sex education is the most effective way to prevent sexual violence; so why won’t USyd nor the Liberal government take it seriously? 

Founder of End Rape On Campus Australia Sharna Bremner has openly criticised The Good Society website and videos for once again failing to support survivors:

“This government has form in this area. After the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report into sexual violence at universities in 2017, they launched a review that relied on unis self-reporting what they were doing in response to the report, but they backed away from an expert-led taskforce that would have actually ensured unis were taking concrete action to make campuses safer. 

The last few months seems to have been a wake up call for some people about how the Federal Government views sexual violence, but they walked away from student survivors two and half years ago. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that they’d completely miss the mark when it comes to educating young people about consent and relationships.” 

Whilst two of the videos of concern have been taken down, the rest of The Good Society program needs major re-working. Experienced people in sex education and sexual violence prevention have been excluded and it absolutely shows. Nothing less than expert-informed, research-backed sex and consent education will help stop the rampant sexual violence that our universities and workplaces face.

School students deserve better. Uni students deserve better. 

All survivors deserve better. 

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