‘I want their voices heard’:Assault survivors to speak at consent roundtable

Several of the country’s most influential education and human rights stakeholders will join a roundtable discussion about sex and consent education in schools,which is being led by activist Chanel Contos in a final bid to push for reform before the end of the year.

The online event on Thursday will gather the most high-profile group of government representatives,curriculum authorities and activists from a cross-section of jurisdictions to meet specifically about the issue since Ms Contosbegan her ‘Teach Us Consent’ campaign in February by publishing thousands of young people’s testimonies about sexual assault. It will be closed to the media.

Chanel Contos said it was important to launch a final push for sex education reform before ACARA finalised the national curriculum.

Chanel Contos said it was important to launch a final push for sex education reform before ACARA finalised the national curriculum.Liliana Zaharia

The roundtable will be attended by federal Minister for Women’s Safety Anne Ruston,chief executive of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) David de Carvalho,Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins,National Children’s Commissioner Anne Holland. Representatives from the federal Education Minister and the Minister for Women’s offices will also attend.

Delegates will split into small groups where they will hear directly from a young person who has experienced sexual assault,but focus on the curriculum in their discussions. Ms Contos said it would be the last opportunity to put her petition in front of national authority ACARA before the curriculum for the next five years was finalised and submitted to the nation’s various education ministers.

“There are thousands of people around Australia who want what we want,but it’s up to a handful of people to make decisions about these things,” Ms Contos said.

“I want the young survivors who are attending this meeting to be at the centre. I want it to be a chance for their voices to be heard,and I want politicians and key players to have their guards down and know we’re having a conversation.

“Throughout this campaign so many things have popped up that we now advocate for. But this really focuses on our initial goal,which is mandating consent education in the national curriculum and what 43,000 people signed up for.”

Ms Contos’ petition to introduce earlier and more holistic sex educationexposed the extent of the problem andlaunched weeks of public discussion. In NSW,it was followed by anew police operation,spike in sexual assault reporting andreform of the state’s consent laws. But progress on curriculum reform has been patchier.

The NSW government,which says its inclusion of consent in the curriculum is adequate,is rolling out optional resources for teachers,but aparliamentary debate on the issue has been delayed due to COVID-19. Victoriahas introduced mandatory and specific classes on consent and Queensland will also implement more explicit and earlier consent education.

The new national curriculum draft,released by ACARA in May,has strengthened guidance on teaching about respectful relationships,sexuality and consent. But experts say it needs to more explicitly link those themes to sexual relationships and gender-based violence,and make that content compulsory.

The call for earlier,nationally consistent sex and consent education has been echoed by Australian of the Year Grace Tame.

Ms Contos said ACARA’s national curriculum would be the focus of Thursday’s roundtable,which will also be attended by Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek,the chief executives of both OurWatch and Education Services Australia,policy leads from the eSafety Commissioner’s office and NSW Attorney-General’s office,and executives from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership and Foundation for Young Australians.

They will be joined by the Northern Territory’s education minister,delegates from NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell’s office,the NSW Education Standards Authority’s head of PDHPE and Cranbrook School headmaster Nicholas Sampson among others.

The roundtable follows the National Summit on Women’s Safety held earlier this month. That event - which was delayed and moved online due to the COVID-19 outbreak -called for recognition around ending violence against women but wasmet with some scepticism.

Phil Lambert,deputy chair of OurWatch and former general manager of the Australian curriculum,said there had been heightened expectations for the women’s summit after a wide community discussion earlier this year,but the revised event didn’t include explicit sections on primary prevention or consent education.

“However,the concluding statements indicate that greater specificity will happen,” he said. “It is clear further discussion on embedding respectful relationships education,sex and consent education into the Australian curriculum is needed. Then it is up to the states and territories to ensure it is actually taught.”

ACARA is making its final revisions to the national curriculum,which will next need to be signed off by the federal,state and territory education ministers. “It’s got a bit of process to go through,” Dr Lambert said.

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Natassia Chrysanthos is the education reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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