Parents can’t ignore tough conversations and the reality of when their children start engaging in sexual activity, says Liberal MP Fiona Martin as she calls for universal, compulsory education about consent, respectful relationships and protective behaviours starting from preschool.
The member for Reid, who was a psychologist before entering federal Parliament, says this would set up children for a life of healthy relationships and the ability to recognise coercive control and sexual abuse.
Liberal MP Fiona Martin, a former psychologist, wants education on consent and relationship skills to be compulsory for all children.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer
“The reality is a lot of children have been presented with situations and are engaging in sexual activity at quite a young age,” Dr Martin told this masthead.
“So we can ignore it and not have our kids well prepared, or we can educate them and skill them up so that they can make good decisions for themselves when they’re presented with different scenarios and situations.
“Not having these conversations is really not setting your child up to be well versed and understand different circumstances and situations that they might be in when you’re not present.”
The issue of consent education has been in the spotlight after an online petition started by former Kambala student Chanel Contos received thousands of testimonies from young women about sexual assaults by their male peers during high school or shortly after. More than 36,000 people have signed the petition calling for sexual consent to be taught in schools from a young age.
Dr Martin said education about protective behaviours should begin as soon as children started to talk, in an age-appropriate way such as reading a picture book like Tess Rowley’s Everybody’s Got A Bottom. Protective behaviours include teaching young children the proper names for body parts, what is private and how to respect and protect their bodies.
Relationship skills could also start being taught to preschool children through conversations about who their friends were, who they played with and what made a good friendship, she said. As children got older, this could evolve into assertiveness training, giving them the confidence to speak up against bullying or about other unhealthy relationships.
Dr Martin believes discussions about consent should be added from Year 7 at the latest. Again, that could be done in an age-appropriate way such as through role play.
“You build on those blocks of relationship skills and then you get to school-aged, primary school age, and you can really have good conversations about what’s a healthy relationship, what’s an unhealthy one,” Dr Martin said.
“That evolves and develops as they go through their schooling and education so that by the age of say, 14, they’re talking about and they know what coercive control is.”
While there are resources available to teachers and parents through organisations such as Our Watch and U R Strong, Dr Martin wants it to be “not just passively there as a resource for teachers, but actually embedded into the school curriculum”.
While state governments have responsibility for education, the national curriculum is set in agreement with all education ministers including from the Commonwealth.
Dr Martin’s calls for consent education to be embedded in the curriculum come as the Queensland and Victorian governments and NSW independent schools have started reviews of what is taught.
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said last Thursday new materials on teaching about respectful relationships and issues around consent and abuse and how to deal with it would be sent to schools to use as they saw fit.
Federal cabinet minister Darren Chester has also called for better education about consent, particularly for boys, saying violence against women is fundamentally a men’s issue.
“We all need to have difficult conversations with other men and boys about what’s acceptable behaviour, understanding the meaning of consent and pushing back on the violent porn industry which gives young men a warped and contaminated perspective of respectful relationship,” he writes in an opinion piece for The Age.
National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line: 1800 737 732. Crisis support can be found at Lifeline: (13 11 14 and lifeline.org.au), the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467 and suicidecallbackservice.org.au) and beyondblue (1300 22 4636 and beyondblue.org.au).
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