Why we need much more than consent training in our schools to stop sexual assault - by Maggie Dent
Read the full story here:
https://www.maggiedent.com/blog/why-we-need-much-more-than-consent-training-in-our-schools-to-stop-sexual-assault/ Warning: This article discusses sexual assault and uses sexual terms.
One of the main reasons I wrote my bestselling 2020 book From Boys to Men was to help parents and those who work with tweens and teens to raise boys to be happy, healthy men. No-one wants to raise their son to be a creep, a sexual predator, an abuser of girls and women or worse, a murderer who kills his female partner and children. Sadly, on this International Women’s Day we know that statistically violence against women is increasing.
At last there is some serious light being shone on the dark underbelly of inappropriate sexual behaviour and abuse and most specifically rape from boys and men in Australian schools, communities, businesses and parliament. From the moment that the courageous advocate for survivors of sexual assault Grace Tame became Australian of the Year, something shifted.
Then, former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins finally disclosed her alleged (I use that word only for legal purposes) rape in the office of a Federal Minister. This disclosure from an eloquent young woman has been the catalyst for others to speak up about similar assaults in our Federal Parliament.
Then appeared the petition by former Kambala student Chanel Contos now signed by almost 30,000 girls and young women. The testimonies that they have left are harrowing and distressing to read however the light needs to shine on the stories so that we collectively know the truth of this violent culture and stop it happening to other girls.
Chanel has now set up www.teachusconsent.com and this is a message from that website:
“Those who have signed this petition have done so because they are sad and angry that they did not receive an adequate education regarding what amounts to sexual assault and what to do when it happens. These are uncomfortable conversations to have with young teenagers but it is far more uncomfortable to live knowing that something happened to you, or a friend, or perhaps that you were even the perpetrator of it, and it could have been avoided.”
Many of the stories shared are about appalling behaviour from boys from elite private schools. Since then, stories have been shared that include government schools so it is safe to say this is problematic for many adolescents, not just in Australia but around the world. I know and I want to acknowledge that not all boys behave in these disgusting ways, but many decent boys stand by and do nothing, and that has to stop too.
In Chanel’s words.
“The following testimonies were sent to me by those who passionately believe that inadequate consent education is the reason for their sexual abuse during or soon after school.” www.teachusconsent.com
First, let me explore some of the reasons why I believe things seem to have got worse since the digital world arrived. Indeed, most children and tweens have smart phones which give them access to content that can be shattering their child-like innocence and feeding a ‘hook-up’ culture where sex without intimacy is almost the norm. We need to keep in mind today’s children, teens and young adults DID NOT create the digital world. It was created by adults and, sadly, it is our young who are paying the price.
Access to free porn
Porn is freely accessible and sadly many children stumble upon it accidentally. Heck it can even be found on Kids You Tube where sickos embed links that take children to graphic hard-core pornography. There has been a significant increase in inappropriate sexual behaviour, often of a penetrative nature, with children under five. One of the main ways children learn inappropriate sexual play is by seeing pornography or through having another child who has seen it, doing it to them. Research has shown that sibling-on-sibling sexual violence is common among children with problem sexual behaviours – and the vast majority have experienced early sexualisation via porn.
The first thing we can do to better prepare our children to avoid being sexually abused or becoming a sexual predator, is to ensure that access to all pornography needs to have an age verification. Many good parents have told me that, even with parental controls and conversations about how to avoid seeing bad pictures and videos, their children have been exposed to porn by other children. With smart phones, this can happen on the bus, in a school playground or on a play date or sleepover.
Protective behaviours and body awareness education must start in the home and thankfully there are many excellent picture books and resources that can help with these conversations. We must teach our children about their ownership of their own body and that it’s not OK for anyone to touch their private parts. This is also where we first start talking about the importance of consent. It is now built in to early childhood education and in our schools however we need to be addressing this in our homes just as importantly. No matter how awkward the conversations are, they need to happen, often.
Adolescent sexual maturity
Evidence is now showing that today’s children are beginning puberty earlier than ever. There are so many changes on this journey – physical, emotional, cognitive and hormonal and one of the drivers on this journey to adulthood is sexual awakening. This is normal, however if our young people are learning how to express their sexuality by watching pornography it is problematic. Why? Firstly, because they are watching porn during a stage where they lack the cognitive capacity to understand and make sound choices through reasoned decision-making using a fully formed executive functioning brain (this doesn’t develop til the mid-20s or so). Secondly, during adolescence, they are biologically driven to belong, and to be liked and validated by those of the same age so they’re more prone to being influenced and so we can understand how this could become pr