By Martin Johnston
A Hamilton student is pushing for schools to be compelled to teach about sexual consent.
“If consent education was made mandatory, students from a young age can be more informed of rape culture and how it can be dismantled in this country,” Patricia Alcartado says in an open letter.
She is a Year 13 student at Hamilton Girls’ High School, a school which does provide education on sexual consent.
Alcartado told the Herald she and school colleagues “are trying to raise awareness for the issue of rape culture in New Zealand and how to combat it”.
Their campaign comes 10 months after the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault took off internationally – and in New Zealand – in the wake of the allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
The campaign coincides with the nationwide expansion in secondary schools of the ACC Mates and Dates programme. This programme was started in 2014 following the “Roastbusters” scandal, in which some West Auckland youths bragged on social media about having sex with drunk and underage girls. None was convicted.
And early last year, hundreds of Wellington students protested outside Parliament against rape culture in their schools, after comments were posted online, by male students of Wellington College, joking about taking advantage of drunk or unconscious women.
Alcartado said the event “sparked outrage among many, and calls to make consent education mandatory was at the heart of the protest”.
The Rape Prevention Education Whakatu Mauri Trust supports the call for sexual-consent education to me made mandatory.
Executive director Debbi Tohill estimated that only a third of Auckland secondary school provided education on sexual consent.
“We know that one in five girls and one in 10 boys will have had an unwanted sexual experience by the time they are 16 … which demonstrates how important this education is.
“Young people today are surrounded by media images portraying sexual images and we know that many … are accessing porn.”
In 2015, the Ministry of Education advised schools to add lessons on consent and coercion into their sexuality education programmes for the first time.
Sex education is a compulsory part of the health curriculum, but schools can choose how they teach it. They must consult with their school community every two years on how they teach it.
Tohill said, “Education on sexual consent and relationships will enable young people to make good choices as they become sexually active. They will understand the law on consent, which can be confusing.”
Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he couldn’t confirm Alcartado’s assertion that fewer than half of schools actively taught about consent. Such data wasn’t reported, he said, although the ministry was currently assessing the quality of sexuality education after receiving a report from the Education Review Office.
When asked about Alcartado’s contention that he would not compel schools to teach on sexual consent, Hipkins said he expected them to teach about the importance of responsible attitudes and positive relationships, “including the area of consent”.
“However, how schools do this is up to them. A key strength of the curriculum is the flexibility it provides schools to respond to the particular needs and aspirations of their communities.”
He encouraged students to ensure their voices were heard in the two-yearly community consultations.
AN OPEN LETTER
“No” is a word most people learn at a young age. We learn to say it and, in turn, hear it. However, rape culture persists as an insidious horror in New Zealand society. Now more than ever, rape culture is at the forefront of popular conversation. Many are asking, “can anything be done to stop this from happening again?”
One possible solution is apparent: mandatory consent education. If consent education was made mandatory, students from a young age can be more informed of rape culture and how it can be dismantled in this country.
Last year, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of Parliament to protest, in response to the rape jokes posted on Facebook by some male Wellington College students. This event sparked outrage among many, and calls to make consent education mandatory was at the heart of the protest. Paula Bennett, Deputy Prime Minister at the time, addressed the crowd and said their “voices [were] heard”. However, this statement contradicts reality.
We contacted Hon. Chris Hipkins, Minister of Education, who echoed the previous government’s view on consent education: that is, it will not be made mandatory. A common argument against mandatory consent education is that it is up to the school and its community, not the government, to implement it. This results in unsatisfactory sex education and unacceptable behaviour. If consent education was made mandatory, this problem would be erased.
In an interview with Tim Macindoe, he expressed that he, as a father, would want consent education to be taught in school, and that the edict needs to be “dictated by the Ministry of Education, because how else could you require schools to do that [teach consent]?” It is important for the school and its community to have a say, but that say has been thus far inadequate, with fewer than half of schools actively teaching consent.
Mandatory consent education will not completely erase rape culture and its effects. Only a cultural shift — one where we teach boys respect and girls to use their voices — will be able to make a dent in the issue. However, it is imperative that every effort be made against this institution that has plagued New Zealand for far too long.
Maybe, New Zealand can finally learn that “no” means “no”.
— Patricia Alcartado
Source: NZ Herald