Students, rape prevention educators and politicians are calling for the Government to make consent education mandatory in all schools.
Last month, the Australian Government unanimously decided that as of 2023, consent will be a compulsory part of the education curriculum from the first year of school, through to year 10.
Younger students will be taught generally about seeking permission and respectful relationships while older students will learn about consent, power imbalances, gender stereotypes and coercion.
In New Zealand, it’s up to the individual school in consultation with its community, to decide how and what, if anything, to teach about consent.
Rape Prevention Education’s (RPE) Debbi Tohill says consent education “varies from school to school".
"Because there is no mandate, every school does things differently. If a school has a particular view, it may be that the children don't get as much of a worldview as they may need,” she says.
The Ministry of Education updated its guidelines on the importance of age-appropriate consent education in 2020 but it’s not compulsory.
Year 13 student Rosie says “we haven’t really been taught that much about”.
She and her fellow Western Springs College students Ava and Leo spoke to 1News believe schools need to teach more on the topic of consent and there needs to be more conversations about it.
“I think it shouldn’t be up to chance, it needs to be secure that they need to know that there’s people being taught this, and it’s not up to the parents, because you don’t know what’s going on in every household,” Leo says.
Rosie says, “often people don't know how to react or don't realise that it's happened to them or the significance of it” highlighting that is an issue for both boys and girls.
There are calls from across the political spectrum for New Zealand to follow Australia’s lead and mandate consent education.
Green Party Education spokesman Teanau Tuiono says “evidence shows that education about consent is effective for reducing sexual violence and for building healthy relationships so I think what they’ve done over in Australia is the right move and we should follow suit.”
ACT’s David Seymour says “if it will help for education to get people back from behaviour that is illegal or questionable, then I think that’s a very good thing”.
National’s Erica Stanford says “if there’s anything extra that we can do to assist so we can reduce those levels of sexual violence and sexual offending in our communities then we should be open to looking at what we can possibly do.”
In a written statement provided to 1News, declining the opportunity to be interviewed, Ministry of Education’s Pauline Cleaver, Associate Deputy Secretary Curriculum reiterated: “We are absolutely clear that learning about consent cannot to be left to chance for students”.
“Relationships and sexuality education guidance released in 2020 emphasises the importance of age-appropriate consent education throughout the entire schooling pathway. These guidelines are not mandatory, they provide advice on what is considered best practice for Aotearoa New Zealand schools.”
It states: “Schools are required to consult with their school communities every two years, or more often, about how they teach health education. This ensures a range of views are heard on what the community considers is important for its young people to know”.
Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti says “the curriculum is currently going through a refresh and when we do get to the essential learning area of health and physical education, this will be a time when we will look at consent education”.
But that’s not until 2024. In the meantime, funding is being cut at the end of the year for the ACC funded Mates and Dates sex education programme, used by 16% of schools.
Last year, Christchurch Girls' High School conducted a survey of 700 students which found nearly 60 per cent had been verbally harassed or groped and 20 students allege they had been raped.
Rape Prevention Education’s (RPE) Debbi Tohill says “there’s good evidence for the importance of teaching consent, alongside that, how to have a healthy relationship.”
“We do have a culture in New Zealand where we will often make excuses, boys will be boys or blaming someone because of what they were wearing or if they had been drinking or taking drugs. Sexual violence is about someone taking the power of control over another person, if we allow those attitudes and beliefs at the lower level, eventually it will turn into actual sexual violence.”
Where to get help:
- 24 hour nationwide helpline Safe2Talk: 0800 044 334
- 24/7 helpline Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP: 04 801 6655
- RapeCrisis directory to services across the country: www.rapecrisisnz.org.nz
- (Not for crisis support): For education programs around preventing sexual violence: RespectEd
- Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Aotearoa: www.malesurvivor.nz
- To report your experience to the police, call 111 or the non-emergency line 105
Top Image: A teenager learning in a classroom. (File photo) Photo: Ridofranz/iStock