44,000 Signatures & 6,000 Testimonies Later, We’ll Finally Have Mandatory Consent Education In Schools
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.
It's been exactly one year today since Chanel Contos launched the Teach Us Consent initiative, a campaign that has led the fight for conversations about consent to be included in the Australian school curriculum.
But not only does today mark 12 months of the campaign, but the start of a new chapter, as ministers of education around Australia have unanimously committed to mandating holistic and appropriate consent education in every school, for every year, from foundation until year 10 – effective as of 2023.
Over the past year, Contos' advocacy work has attracted over 44,000 petition signatures for consent education reform and more than 6,700 anonymous testimonies about people's own experiences with sexual assault.
In a post shared to her Instagram account, the 23-year-old explained achieving today's landmark announcement wouldn't have been possible without the petition signatures, personal testimonies and "countless hours of volunteer work and support", adding she'd like to say "thank you to everyone involved".
The process of reviewing the country's curriculum has been an enormous undertaking. Once every five years, the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) reviews the Aussie curriculum. After having conducted external consultations with professional teacher groups, parents and subject matter experts, ACARA provides final revisions to the curriculum to education ministers before the end of the year, which in this case was the end of last year.
In the months leading up to this, Contos emphasised the importance of cultural change and consent education challenging "attitudes toward sexuality and gender that result in a rape culture."
Contos said it's essential that schools don't simply skirt around the issue of consent when teaching sex-related topics in personal development and physical health education (PDHPE) classes.
"At a national level, we need consent mandated in the Australian curriculum, and we need to teach it with explicit reference to intimate relationships," she told Refinery29 Australia over email in September 2021.
"The same time kids learn about the biology of sex, they should be learning about consent. The elaborations of consent in the curriculum need to be holistic in that they address factors such as power imbalances and gendered expectations."
When the Teach Us Consent campaign began, it was ignited by an Instagram call-out that Contos made after she noticed a pattern of sexual abuse experienced by her peers. Within 24 hours, 200 people said that they had, or knew someone who had, been sexually assaulted by someone who went to an all-boys school in Sydney.
Contos said toxic masculinity, including when it thrives in all-boys schools, is a "structural issue" and sexual assault "is a by-product" of it.
"I hope that education will prevent students from perpetrating, and encourage them to question what is expected of them and give them the tools to understand what is right and wrong," she said.
"However, to address toxic masculinity within all-boys schools, there needs to be a whole school and whole community approach that challenges gendered norms and expectations and works towards equality."
This is a new era for sex and consent education in Australia, and it's about time.