I am sure that many students and parents have read media coverage regarding the topic of sexual consent and stories from young women about sexual assaults. Chanel Contos established a petition about the need to begin education on the topic of consent earlier than Year 10 when she received information from her school. In Victoria, a number of schools have responded by writing to their communities commending the young women who spoke out and making it clear that more must be done to address this matter.

Released in May 2019, and conducted every four years, the 2017 National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) Youth Report highlighted a number of concerning findings.

Lead researcher Dr Anastasia Powell from RMIT said the research showed many young people, and in particular men, blamed women for sexual assault and failed to fully understand consent. VicHealth acting CEO Dr Lyn Roberts (at the time of the report) said that despite young people being more supportive of gender equality in the workplace and in public life, many held outdated views about the roles of men and women. Men still considered they were in charge when it came to relationships. The report findings at the time called for more work to be done through education programs.

In the articles I read, young women indicated that they needed to have the topic of consent addressed more explicitly within their own school curriculum and in earlier year levels to raise their awareness.

At Lauriston, our Health and Wellbeing program throughout the Junior School and Year 7 provides the foundation for teaching about consent by covering concepts such as positive relationships, communication and conflict management.

From Year 8 onwards, the curriculum does involve explicit teaching about sexual consent, with the aim of helping to reduce sexual coercion, harassment and assault.

Our Health and PE teachers reference a variety of resources to support this component of the Health curriculum and include:

There are a number of sequential and age-appropriate learning outcomes in relation to consent that Lauriston covers at each year level from as early as Kindergarten. These include external providers such as Bravehearts (Kindergarten to Year 2), Beyond Blue SenseAbility program (Year 7); Victoria Family Planning and Kellie Nash body image (Year 9); safe partying and consent – Paul Dillon & Sonya Karras and sexting, pornography, body image and consent – Elephant Ed (Years 11 & 12).

Throughout the curriculum offered to the girls, teachers re-visit topics covered previously and introduce different aspects of topics that are age-appropriate and build on from previous content and activities.

Parents play a significant role in having open and frequent discussions with their children about consent. In a webinar for SchoolTV, acclaimed child and teen psychologist and author Dr Michael Carr-Gregg suggests that parents begin by asking their children what consent means and ensure that they have a clear understanding.

We know and appreciate that conversations about consent can be challenging for parents and their children, but it is important to persist and for parents to be accessible when their children have questions or concerns.

At Lauriston we will continue to review our curriculum because we are aware that we must continue to reflect on whether we are doing enough for our girls.  Just as important, we will continue age-appropriate discussions with our students and ensure they are not only well informed but have an opportunity to raise questions and speak with us should they wish to do so. External presenters also provide another avenue for students to raise questions. We will open a dialogue with our girls about consent and other issues regarding changes needed in our broader community that demonstrate equity between males and females.

We encourage young women to speak openly about sexual consent and all matters where there is inequity between men and women because their voices will result in change.

At our recent International Women’s Day Breakfast, our School Co-Captains spoke about the importance of all females speaking out and leading the way to a more equitable society. Dr Katie Blunt, one of our panel presenters and Class of 2013 Co-School Captain, spoke to the audience about the conversations she has with her male friends about the need to change their own actions and thoughts regarding equitable relationships between men and women in the workforce and in personal life.

An important value of our School is relationships, and as educators our commitment is to the academic and personal growth of all girls. We want our girls to be safe and to enjoy respectful relationships with boys and young men where there is no imbalance of power.