WATCH: Saxon Mullins on what we need to know about consent
The petition, made by former Kambala girls' school student turned UNSW academic tutor, Chanel Contos, came about after Chanel asked her Instagram followers in Sydney if they or anyone close to them experienced sexual assault from someone who went to an all-boys school—within 24 hours, 300 people responded with 70% saying yes.
While her poll was about instances in Sydney, she has inspired young girls from schools across the country to speak up on their experience with abuse and rape, sparking a national conversation about the lack of education on consent in schools. As such, the petition is asking members of parliament (MPs) around the country to push for genuine sexual education around consent in schools.
When the petition first went live, Chanel was met with a resounding near 2,000 anonymous testimonies from young girls about their experiences with sexual assault and abuse from boys who attended all-boys schools. For many of these young girls, they say they were either too drunk to defend themselves when the incident occurred, or weren’t even aware of sexual assault was at the time and felt that they were in the wrong.
“The worst part about it is I was so uneducated I didn’t even know I was raped, and he probably didn’t even know he did it,” Chanel shared in her own testimony.
“Kambala provided me with life-changing education on consent for the first time in Year 10,” Chanel said on her Instagram. “However, it happened too late and came with the tough realisation that amongst my friends, almost half of us had already been raped or sexually assaulted by boys from neighbouring schools.”
But, here’s the thing: while young girls need to be educated on consent, their experience with sexual assault is not their fault to blame; it’s the young boys who’ve breached their boundaries and done things without asking their permission—and the institutions like all-boys schools that have helped enable this behaviour.
What Is Consent?
Consent refers to the verbal permission you give another person. For instance, I may give someone consent to use my phone to text a friend on my behalf if my hands are full—risky I know—or I may give someone consent to use my makeup palette, or in the case of here: consent to being hugged, kissed or more. Here's the really important point about consent tho: consent is not a fixed thing, you can give consent to something and then stop at any point in time.
If you are uncomfortable at any point, you have the right to stop and to tell someone no. Similarly, if you notice someone is uncomfortable, you should check in with them and ask if they're okay and comfortable. Not only is it the right thing to do but, tbh, consent is extremely sexy.
Another thing: if someone is under the influence—Aka drunk—they cannot give consent. This means that you should not do anything remotely sexual with another person if you're sober. And, if you are the drunk one in this circumstance, we encourage you to not do anything you're not comfortable with and follow your heart: don't think you're mentally there enough to consent to something? Don't do it.
In 2021, we as a society need to teach young men about consent and what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to the way they navigate romantic and sexual experiences, and the way they treat female bodies—point blank period 😤. Young boys need to learn that it’s not okay to touch a woman—even if it’s your girlfriend—without their consent and especially if one of you is under the influence.
“As a collective, we call for sexual consent to be at the forefront of educational issues in your school, from a young age,” Chanel added in the petition. “I have lived in three different countries and I have never spoken to anyone who has experienced rape culture the way me and my friends had growing up in Sydney amongst private schools.”
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or you want to talk, know that there are people who are ready and willing to listen. Please, contact the 1800 Respect national helpline (1800 737 732), Lifeline 24 hour crisis line (131 114), Beyond Blue (1300 224 636) or the NSW child protection helpline (132 111).