Isn’t It Time We Had Consent Classification In TV & Films?

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From Bridgerton to Star Wars, sex scenes are featured in practically every genre of film and television these days. But while some intimate sequences can be titillating and entertaining, others can be rather problematic when it comes to the portrayal of sexual consent.
A new campaign called #ClassifyContent is calling for the first-ever classification in movies and TV shows to highlight when there's a "Lack of Consent" on screen.
Consent Labs — an Australian not-for-profit organisation dedicated to changing the culture around sexual consent — says that while there are classifications that identify coarse language, nudity, profanity and drug use, there isn't one to identify when there's a lack of consent.
According to new research commissioned by the organisation, three in five Australians are still unable to recognise consent when seen on screen and a quarter are unable to define it.
Angelique Wan is the CEO, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Consent Labs, and says that non-consensual acts are being normalised when scenes are portrayed as funny and romantic, and this has the potential to normalise the behaviour in real life. 
Some examples cited by the organisation include a sex scene in Bridgerton Season 1 between Daphne and Simon, the Devil Wears Prada scene where Christian asks Andrea to kiss him while she's intoxicated, to which she repeatedly says she 'can't', and in Star Wars when Han Solo kisses Princess Leia after she pushes him away and tells him not to touch her.
"Think of any rom-com you've ever watched, in there's a really common trope where someone says no, they're pursued for a little bit and then that no turns into a yes. In the real world, that is considered as an exchange where consent isn't actually given," Wan tells Refinery29 Australia.
"But I think without a classification to inform viewers, there's the risk that maybe they're unintentionally thinking that that's what consent looks like — if you badger someone for long enough and they relent, then they've actually given that consent."
Wan says the non-consensual acts in these scenes are often "not overt and not super violent, but nonetheless it's still a lack of consent".
Over the past 18 months, Australia has had widespread discussions about affirmative consent laws and consent education in schools. But Wan highlights that children are exposed to messages about consent and what constitutes a healthy relationship through TV and film even before they go to school. An example is children’s films and cartoons where women are kissed while they’re asleep.
"You can't underestimate the importance or the role that media has in shaping a person's view of consent and what it looks like and its importance in relationships," she says, "which is why this classification is important for all genres of films and films for all ages."
Teach Us Consent founder Chanel Contos — who has helped lead the fight for conversations about consent to be included in the Australian school curriculum — says including a consent classification in TV and movies will assist with early consent education.
"It's important to prompt conversations about consent as often as possible. Having a classification on TV is a great way for parents to organically education their children about consent at home," Contos tells Refinery29 Australia.
"It's unsurprising that three in five Australians were unable to recognise consent on screens as the reason that violations of consent are so normal to us is because it's what we see in the media," she adds in reference to the research.
"It's a cycle, and this is a good way to bring awareness to that cycle to break it, without censoring content."
Wan says this campaign is about just that — breaking the cycle and not actually censoring content.
"With this classification, we're not looking to cancel or censor any movies movies or take out the enjoyment from TV shows and movies," she explains.
"It's really just that prompt — checking in with yourself and that opportunity for reflection before you consume something to say, 'Am I consuming this purely for entertainment purposes or do I believe that I should be reflecting these activities in my real-life relationships?'
"I think currently the prompts or that questioning is not happening for people, and I think it is an important link that people should make."
Consent Labs is encouraging Australians to support the new classification by making a pledge. Later this year, the organisation plans to launch a Federal Petition to the Classifications Board with the view to turn the movement into reform.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service.
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