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It’s time to make consent a mandatory part of the curriculum

Donna-Lee Biddle is an investigator with the Criminal Cases Review Commission. She is a former journalist and regular opinion contributor.

I recently overheard a disturbing conversation between a group of five teenagers.

It seemed too innocent at first. They were flipping through photos of a teenage girl on a phone, laughing, using their thumb and index finger to zoom in on her photos.

But it only took one comment to turn things around.

* Unsolicited explicit photos of teens are a form of abuse, researchers say
* Teach Us Consent: The Fight to Get Mandatory Sexual Consent Education in Schools
* Tinder, Toxic Masculinity and Sexual Consent: A Review


Katharina von der Gathen’s new book, Tell Me: What Kids Really Want to Know About Body, Sex and Emotions, is based on real questions young children asked a sex educator in the classroom.

“Look what she’s wearing in this one. She’s up for it, I think,” one boy said.

“Yeah I think so too. I didn’t want to say anything, but that’s what I thought too.

That was all it took to get the others started.

And then began the barrage of comments surrounding her appearance and her perceived willingness to have sex based on what she was wearing.

Their lack of awareness for those around them, let alone the content of their conversation, was alarming. What was even more disturbing was that there was an adult present, and although he didn’t participate in the conversation, he effectively encouraged it by laughing too.

He wasn’t going to end the conversation, and I could see other adults standing around, looking uncomfortable, but not saying anything either.

I said, “Ah, sorry, that’s not appropriate. Where are your parents, let me know?

I’ve been known to make other people’s children growl when they break the rules or act badly, especially if they’re not supervised, and I make no apologies for that.

I would expect my children to behave well when they go out, and if they are not, I hope another adult will raise them about their behavior as well.

The boys were scrolling through pictures of a teenage girl, but quickly turned to discussing her perceived willingness to have sex based on what she was wearing.


The boys were scrolling through pictures of a teenage girl, but quickly turned to discussing her perceived willingness to have sex based on what she was wearing.

My daughter was nearby, and while she didn’t fully understand the context of the situation, she knew by the tone of my voice that it wasn’t appropriate.

The boys were all staring at me, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, a few mumbled words escaping but nothing coherent. They knew they were wrong.

Four left and walked away, and one stayed close but walked away from me. I knew his relative must be nearby. I waited hoping I could talk to an adult he was with, but he ended up running away too.

As a former court reporter, consent was at the heart of several sexual assault and rape cases I have reported on. There were also similar topics in the conversations of these young boys: the victim’s choice of dress, the way the victims interacted, the way they posed for photos or flirty messages they sent.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the OECD.

In 2019, the Justice Department reported that the majority of the 23,000 incidents of sexual violence reported to police over the past five years were suffered by children or young people, according to a new Justice Department report.

He revealed that for every 100 incidents of sexual violence reported to the police, only 31 made it to court, 11 resulted in a conviction and six resulted in a jail sentence.

The report Attrition and progression: Reported sexual violence victimizations in the criminal justice system analyzed 23,739 incidents reported between July 2014 and June 2018.

I have three boys and a girl, and one who is now a teenager. I don’t want them to be one of those statistics – perpetrator or victim – so I’ve made it my priority to talk to them about consent. It’s not a one-off conversation, it’s something that my husband and I include in everyday conversations.

One way I found effective in broaching sensitive topics was to use a recent real-life experience, perhaps something one of us witnessed or one of us heard. talk, and discuss it on the car trip to school. It gave my kids time to think about what we had talked about and in a few days, if they hadn’t asked questions already, we would bring it up again and ask them if they understood what we were talking about. were talking.

Teaching consent is currently advised in program guidelines, but it's not mandatory - and it surprised Donna-Lee Biddle (file photo).

Kevin Stent / Stuff

Teaching consent is currently advised in program guidelines, but it’s not mandatory – and it surprised Donna-Lee Biddle (file photo).

When my eldest son started school, I assumed consent would be part of the sex ed classes they had in school. Although it hasn’t been included yet, I was surprised to learn that it’s actually not mandatory for schools to teach it.

Currently, sex education is compulsory until grade 10 and consent is advised in curriculum guidelines – but it is not compulsory.

The government hopes recently released resources that address consent, pornography, gender diversity and digital safety will improve sex education.

Resources include videos showing how teachers can communicate with students about sex education – and written guidelines outlining how primary and secondary students should be taught.

So while resources around consent are available, it is not mandatory to teach it.

It comes with confirmation that a program designed to provide consent education – which has been delivered to more than 400 schools – will be discontinued by the end of the year.

In April, Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti said Things that discussions on mandatory consent would not take place until 2024, when health and physical education will be addressed as part of the national curriculum update.

While mandatory consent education will not completely solve the problem of sexual violence, it will most certainly encourage these difficult conversations, and for many of our young men and women, this will be the first time they have been educated about consent. .

This is not a dig into schools or an expectation that they should teach our children what they should already be learning at home. But as with all compulsory school subjects, having this knowledge and the ability to process what it means in a safe space, such as school, is the best way to start.

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