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More than 150 people across Aotearoa have opened up about sexual assault and harassment which they experienced as high schoolers. 

People as young as 14 and those who have graduated from high school have anonymously submitted their testimonies to an online form. 

Genna Hawkins Boulton set up the form after having dinner with a friend. “We were passionately angry at the current state of sexual violence among people we know,” the 24-year-old from Tāmaki Makaurau said.

Feeling fed up, last Sunday Genna wrote a post on Instagram and set up the online form. This has received support from Australia’s Teach Us Consent movement - and people can now submit their experiences to their website

“I wrote about how New Zealand’s having an epidemic among high school students and how dire the situation is,” Genna said.

The people she knows who experienced sexual assault or harassment as high school students did not report it or recognise it was assault at the time.

Reflecting on her own experience in high school, Genna said “every person I spoke to in my year group could not recall consent education beyond the fact that ‘no means no.’ There was no emphasis on healthy relationships or coercion and what to do when people are intoxicated”.

‘Schools not implementing consent education as strongly as it should be’

A lot of the testimonies she has received involve coercion.

“There are experiences where they have been assaulted by their partner who has assumed that because they’re in a relationship, it’s guaranteed consent,” Genna said.  

One submission said “the lack of consent education meant that I was groomed in year 10 by a male year 13 student. He would walk me to school daily. I felt so grown up with the attention I was receiving and never thought twice about it”. 

“The facts of the story are there though. This was an 18 year old man (repeating year 13) and I was barely 14. It was only when I told my parents about a potential new boyfriend that they intervened and helped me see how fucked up that was. I still see him pop up in my suggested friends on Facebook. It disgusts me how predatory it was. 

“Our relationship was sexual and marked some of my first sexual experiences. They’re all overshadowed now with the horrible feeling of being used.”

Genna said there are also submissions from people who came forward to their school and no action was taken. 

“The counsellors didn’t know what to do, the school didn’t take action so they would be in class with their abuser. That’s constant retraumatising and no one believed them - there are so many testimonies about that.”

Genna says high schools aren’t implementing consent education as strongly as it should be so she’s also going to launch a petition calling for mandatory, holistic consent education in New Zealand secondary schools. 

She’ll present this petition to Parliament. 

‘New Zealand and Australia are so culturally similar’

The Teach Us Consent movement was set up by Chanel Contos who in February 2021 asked followers on an Instagram story if they or someone close to them had been sexually assaulted by someone when they were at school. 

Within 24 hours, more than 200 people replied with ‘yes’. This led to Chanel launching a petition for more holistic and earlier consent education. 

Speaking from the United Kingdom, Chanel said she was disappointed to hear about students’ experiences of sexual assault in New Zealand but it didn’t come as a surprise. 

“New Zealand and Australia are so culturally similar,” the 24-year-old said.

Chanel said she was hopeful that support and change could happen in New Zealand like it did in Australia.

In February, the Australian Government decided consent will be a compulsory part of the education curriculum from the first year of school to year 10. This will happen from 2023. 

Younger students will learn 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 schools in consultation with their communities to decide what to teach about consent. 

Genna said “we need to push high schools to be accountable for how they are treating people who do come forward. It’s upholding structures of rape culture and it has to stop. People have gone through this for decades”.

Topics like coercion needed to be mandated and “high schools have the obligation to abide by this so they are protecting rangatahi”, she said.

People are being urged to come forward including takatāpui and the LGBT+ community too.

“We want to open up this space, it does affect everyone.” 

In a statement, the Ministry of Education’s curriculum, pathways and progress associate deputy secretary Pauline Cleaver said relationships and sexuality education will be refreshed in 2024 as part of wider updates to the curriculum.

“Any decisions about expectations for healthy relationships education, including consent education, will be made at that stage and will be informed by a robust evidence base and consultation process,” Cleaver said. 

“The New Zealand Curriculum does not refer to ‘consent education’ explicitly” but does have relationships and sexuality education, she said. 

“The Ministry does expect that all schools are using the 2020 Relationships and Sexuality Education Guidelines to inform their health education programmes.” 

Cleaver said: “Schools are required to have a formal complaints process in place and it is appropriate for school boards of trustees to address concerns raised with them.” 

“We will always respond when concerns are raised with us directly and work with the school as necessary. Complaints about illegal activity should be referred to the NZ Police.”

Top Image: A person using their phone. (File photo) Photo: Getty Images

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