Why evidence-led consent education is essential

Why evidence-led consent education is essential

This year, consent education became mandatory for all school children across Australia.   

Announcing the decision in February 2022, federal, state and territory education ministers unanimously agreed that holistic and age-appropriate consent education would be taught in every Australian school from 2023.

The curriculum will be taught to students from Kindergarten to Year 10 and include a number of topics that have been lacking in sex education, such as information about power imbalances, gendered stereotypes and coercion.

Studies show one in three Australian women (34.2%) have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by a man since the age of 15. However, when it comes to educating our young about this important issue, experts say more needs to be done.

Jackie Bateman is a renowned therapist, trainer, consultant, and writer with more than 20 years’ practice experience in supporting, and working with children and young people exhibiting harmful sexual behaviours and their families.

Currently, Bateman is Director of Client Services at Kids First Australia, an independent child and family services provider and a pioneer of sexual abuse services for children and young people in Victoria.

Kids First’s Sexual Assault Counselling and Prevention Program (SACPP) works with children and young people who have experienced or engaged in harmful sexual behaviours. The team recently released an evidenced-informed consent education platform, ‘To Future Me’ which teaches on the topics of sex, consent, grooming behaviour and gender in an age-appropriate digital format.

At Kids First, Bateman has led the development and implementation of innovative new Practice Principles and an Outcomes Framework, co-designed with practitioners and families, and also represents Kids First as a member of Sexual Assault Services Victoria, the peak body for sexual assault and harmful sexual behaviours services.

“The truth, as uncomfortable as it may be to hear, is that our culture teaches us that victims – overwhelmingly women – can be blamed for their assault, and this is categorically wrong. No one asks to be assaulted,” Bateman told The Educator.

“We need shift the narrative, and we need to educate on the nuances and complexity of consent from an early age. Beginning with age-appropriate body safety for children and continuing into the early teens when young people begin to explore their sexuality.”

Bateman said consent is “an ongoing conversation”.

“It’s about respect, communication, understanding that a human being should be able to exist without fear of violence and assault. We need to be teaching our young people this consistently, within an age-appropriate/developmental frame of reference,” she said.

“Young people are learning about sex and consent from the internet, from porn, from friends and acquaintances – would we want them learning about maths and English the same way?"

Bateman said safe, respectful relationships are fundamental to a young person’s future, and that age-appropriate consent education supports education supports healthy, safe relationships.

“It is also a powerful tool in shifting attitudes and behaviours around gendered violence, and reducing sexual assault,” she said.

“Talking about consent can be awkward, complex, confusing, but understanding the vital role navigating consent plays in interpersonal relationships is essential for young people to engage in safe intimate relationships. That’s why evidence-led consent education is essential.”