At least half of all women in Australia have experienced sexual harassment, abuse or violence. That’s 1 in 2 that has been sexually harassed, 1 in 3 that has been physically abused and 1 in 5 that has been sexually abused. Let that sink in. With #FiredUp, Refinery29 Australia makes an ongoing commitment to spotlighting this serious and pervasive issue with the goal of dismantling gendered violence in Australia.
Victim-survivors and young people spoke about their concerns and lived experiences, resulting in some powerful conversations that reinforce the need for sex education reform across the country.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins said she was "humbled and privileged" to attend the forum where young people "generously shared their heartbreaking experiences of sexual assault during their school years with courage and determination for change."
Dr Joy Townsend, CEO of Learning Consent said it was "powerful to hear young Australian survivors" speak, and these insights can help improve Australia's approach to sex education.
"These are the lived experiences that must inform our Australian curriculum, and it's critical that we have young people around the table, as experts, for these conversations," she said in a statement provided to Refinery29 Australia via Teach Us Consent.
Once every five years, the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) reviews the country's curriculum. After having conducted external consultations with professional teacher groups, parents and subject matter experts, ACARA will provide final revisions to the curriculum to education ministers before the end of the year.
During the forum, some participants highlighted the need for ACARA to consider the role technology and toxic masculinity play in forming young people's views of sex and relationships.
"The influence of pornography and social media has significantly impacted the behaviour of boys and young men and increased the lack of sexual safety experienced by young women and girls," said Heather Clarke, a board member from the National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence.
"We need to grasp the opportunity provided by ACARA’s current review and ensure the national curriculum includes content that specifically covers these issues. We need to talk with our children and young people about how to have healthy, respectful relationships and schools and teachers need to be properly resourced to deliver this content."
Since she started her campaign, Teach Us Consent six months ago, Contos has been pushing for conversations around consent to be taught to young people earlier on.
It needs to be taught early, and it needs to be structured clearly and made compulsory.
“This is it. You can’t unhear this stuff," she said after attending the roundtable. "If we introduce mandatory, explicit consent education throughout the schooling years, hundreds of thousands of young people will be saved from sexual assault. It’s as simple as that."
Earlier this year Contos launched her initiative that has led the fight for conversations about consent to be included in the Australian school curriculum.
During that time, the 23-year-old's advocacy work has attracted over 43,000 petition signatures for consent education reform and more than 6,000 anonymous testimonies about people's own experiences with sexual assault.
Now she hopes to raise $100,000 that can be used to create cross-media campaigns to further the cause, promote cultural change and challenge "attitudes toward sexuality and gender that result in a rape culture."
Former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard was unable to attend the recent roundtable but praised Contos for her ongoing advocacy work, saying the 23-year-old "is playing a hugely important role in this movement for change."
This is a vital discussion at exactly the right time," said Gillard. "In 2021, because of the courage and activism of young women, Australia is being confronted with the need to address long-standing gender inequalities and violence against women."
As the end of 2021 nears, Contos and thousands of women across Australia stand by for ACARA's curriculum revisions. Here's hoping they have listened.