In today’s modern classroom, teachers are doing their best to equip students with all the knowledge and skills they’ll need once they enter the world, and workforce, as adults.
However, according to a seasoned lawyer, one crucial component is missing: consent training.
Adair Donaldson, director of national firm Donaldson Law, a prominent Australia lawyer in the area of sexual harassment and assault, prevention education and safer workplaces.
Donaldson says that when it comes to prevention education, Australian high schools are key to helping solve the problem.
“We need to be educating youth about the ramifications of behaviours and what consent is and what it isn’t,” Donaldson told The Educator.
“We can’t teach innate qualities such as empathy, but we can teach them what the law is.”
According to Donaldson, schools need to start that education process as early as possible.
“I think the appropriate time for that is when they hit high school and they start wanting to form relationships, take up casual employment, go to parties and other unsupervised social engagements,” he said.
Brighton Grammar School deputy headmaster and head of secondary school, Dr Rachel Horton – who had seen Donaldson present to senior students at her previous school – invited him to speak to her school’s Year 11 and 12 students about the topic of consent, and other areas, such as things for students to consider when attending parties.
“These are areas which we would all like to think are not going to be causes for concern for our boys but on a regular basis the news reminds us that sadly they may well be for them or their friends at some stage,” Horton told The Educator.
“Consent is a very difficult and obviously emotive area with a lot of grey, particularly when decisions and actions are clouded by alcohol.”
Horton said the school wants its boys to know where they stand, what their responsibilities are and what the outcomes – legally, financially and for their reputations – could be if they make poor decisions.
“Young women are taught how to protect themselves as best they can, but we often omit to talk to young men about their responsibilities and how they can and should protect themselves and their friends from making what is a potentially life altering decision for everyone involved,” she said.
“The hope is that parents are now able to start a conversation at home around some really difficult topics.”
In terms of what students respond best to, Donaldson said he always makes it clear to students that he’s not there to preach to them.
“We have all been young adults and we know that they don’t respond well to being told exactly ‘what to do or else’,” he said.
“I find the students often respond best to watching short video clips and then I get their help to identify behaviours that were inappropriate or incorrect.”
Donaldson then talks to them about those behaviours and where the law comes into play.
“Often it’s very grey. It’s important they learn to identify these behaviours for themselves and then understand what the professional and personal ramifications are for acting in certain ways,” he said.