Rape prevention advocates have criticised the government’s new online resources on consent and respectful relationships, saying they fail to meet national education standards and won’t help to stop sexual violence.
Fair Agenda and End Rape on Campus Australia (EROCA) are calling for a complete review of all of the content featured on The Good Society website, including replacing a module on consent.
More than 350 videos, digital stories, podcasts and other materials are available free to teachers, students and families in a resource launched last week, as part of the government’s Respect Matters program.
The resource is an “engaging, flexible, online program that helps students develop safe, healthy and respectful relationships”, according to the website.
But the groups said in a statement the videos are often “confusing” by using scenarios involving milkshakes and tacos instead of addressing the kind of behaviours young people are likely trying to navigate.
One video called ‘Moving the line‘ is designed to teach Year 10 to 12 students about consent.
It features an interaction between a teenage girl and her partner after she encourages him to try her milkshake, before smearing it over his face. The video goes on to include examples of drinking milkshakes, eating pizza and “touching your butt” as scenarios that would require consent.
In this instance, the perpetrator is a woman, despite government research showing 97 per cent of sexual assault offenders recorded by police during 2018-2019 were men.
A separate video titled ‘Yes No I Don’t Know’, uses the scenario of a man with a spear gun trying to convince a woman to swim with sharks to teach consent.
“If we want to address sexual violence with students, we need to arm them with tools to make ethical decisions in emotional and complicated interpersonal relationships – not these basic and often confusing resources,” violence prevention expert Karen Willis said on Monday.
“More than a decade of research suggests that this content will not work at changing behaviour and preventing violence. Young people are far more sophisticated than this content gives them credit for.
“Sex and consent is far more complicated than videos about milkshakes and sharks at the beach.”
Fair Agenda and EROCA say the resources fail to meet the National Standards for the prevention of sexual assault through education.
They are concerned the site’s content includes not only confusing or concerning messages – such as “sexual desire… can really distort our thinking” – but also incorrect and inadequate information about abuse.
For example, the statement says the site’s ‘further information’ page incorrectly directs students to the Australian Human Rights Commission to report any sexual violation and “doesn’t provide information about telling your school, a trusted adult, or the police”.
EROCA Founder Sharna Bremner said the resource also fails to consider the safety of victim-survivors.
“We know that in classrooms of senior students, there will be many who have already experienced rape. This resource… even includes inaccurate and inadequate information on avenues for support and reporting,” she said.
‘It’s clear these resources weren’t written by experts’
The website was developed as part of the Department of Education, Skills and Employment’s ‘Respect Matters’ program, announced in 2019.
In a statement on 14 April, the Department said the program has been developed in “conjunction with Our Watch, the eSafety Commissioner and the Foundation for Young Australians, as well as parent, community and principals’ groups”.
But both organisations have since clarified their involvement.
In a statement, Our Watch said it was consulted between late 2017 and early 2019 as part of a “confidential process” when the materials were being developed and provided advice.
“We have not been asked to use or endorse the materials subsequently,” the statement said.
“Our Watch advocates for a whole-of-school approach to violence prevention education that addresses the gendered drivers of violence.”
A spokesperson for the Foundation of Young Australians told SBS News it introduced the government to a young person in its network who may have taken part in a confidential reference group in late 2017.
“FY has not been asked to review, use or endorse the materials subsequently. We have had no further involvement,” they said.
Ms Bremner said it was clear the resources weren’t written by people with expertise in violence prevention.
“Young people want and deserve training that practically and explicitly helps them understand how to ethically navigate relationships, and to recognise – and feel armed to challenge – unacceptable or coercive behaviour,” she said.
Fair Agenda and EROCA are calling on the government to engage experts to replace the site’s module on consent and to review all of the content to ensure it meets the National Standards.
Greens Senator Larissa Waters agreed, calling the consent videos “bizarre” and the “worst piece of consent education [she has] ever seen”.
“It’s been two years since the government announced its ‘Respect Matters’ program, and this is what we get? This is the worst piece of consent education I’ve ever seen and proves, yet again, that the Morrison government is utterly out of touch on this issue,” she said on Monday.
“This really should not be complicated. We don’t need quirky scenarios and tortured metaphors, we just need to let the actual experts produce the content.
“We need a comprehensive, expert-driven, fully funded, national program, not an optional, online-only resource that may do more harm than good.”
SBS News has contacted the department for comment.
If you would like to make contact with a counsellor, or any other form of support, call the Victims Access Line on 1800 633 063 or Rape Crisis on 1800 424 017. A trained counsellor can discuss your needs and refer you to someone who can help.
If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence or sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at Beyondblue.org.au. Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.