Headmaster’s Seminar: Consent
Thank you to the 90 parents and carers who attended the Headmaster’s Seminar on Consent on Tuesday 11 May 2021. This is an urgent social issue that requires our whole community to act and your interest, attendance and support is greatly appreciated.
Australian society is experiencing rapid and urgently needed social change. As a country we have been confronted with disturbing testimonies of sexual assault committed by school aged boys published on the website teachusconsent.com. We have read and watched news stories of alleged sexual assault from national parliament all the way through society to school aged children. Alarmingly, the highest rate of sexual offenders in Australia is amongst boys aged 15 to 19. There is no doubt, the teaching of consent and intimacy is essential for all students.
The teaching of consent, however, is only a starting point. Adolescence is a complex period of personal growth influenced by powerful social factors including:
- Perceived social expectations around outdated and unhelpful gender stereotypes.
- Unprecedented access to pornography through mobile internet connected devices (48% of boys aged 13 have seen pornography).
- Underage alcohol consumption – 85% of sexual assaults amongst adolescents involves at least one participant under the influence of alcohol.
Lessons at school about consent and intimacy, in isolation, may not be enough to influence behaviour when two young people find themselves together in a room at a ‘gathering’ on the weekend in a private residence where one or both are under the influence of alcohol. What is needed is a community wide understanding of the social forces influencing adolescent behaviour and a consistent approach from the School and families to the teaching of respectful relationships and normalising the language of consent in daily interactions.
While Hutchins has a well-established program for the explicit teaching of consent from Kindergarten to Year 12 that includes engaging Braveheart’s Ditto the Bear (Kindergarten to Year 2); Family Planning Tasmania’s Growing Up Program (Prep to Year 6); and Sexual Assault Support Services (Years 5–12), this is not enough. We have now begun exploring the language of consent as part of behaviour management. For example, instead of saying to a child in Kindergarten who is upset about another child pushing in on the playground equipment, ‘Did you use your words to tell him to stop?’, staff are asking the alleged perpetrator, ‘Did the other boy resist? Was he silent? Did he look uncomfortable? Did he say yes, enthusiastically?’ This is the language of consent and it needs to become part of our daily interactions from a young age.
To ask the child who is the victim of antisocial behaviour what they did or said, places the burden of responsibility on the victim. This is not dissimilar to asking the victim of sexual assault if they were drinking or what they were wearing – it is entirely irrelevant. The only person whose behaviour requires explaining is that of the alleged perpetrator. At the heart of our evolving strategy is student agency and empowering children. Student agency is ‘about acting rather than being acted upon; shaping rather than being shaped; and making responsible decisions and choices rather than accepting those determined by others’ (Student Agency for 2030, OECD).
Watch a recording of the seminar below or on Vimeo. For copyright reasons, videos shown on the night as part of the presentation will need to be accessed separately using the websites listed as resources in the final slides of the presentations.
Dr Rob McEwan