We’re Now Talking About Consent In Unis, And That’s A Damn Important Thing

It doesn’t take a member of Mensa to recognise that young Australians might not be fully informed when it comes to what constitutes consensual sex.
And if it feels like you read something majorly icky in the news every day, it’s because, well, you do.
Take the past 48 hours, for example. 
Yesterday, footage emerged of UNSW students boisterously chanting pro-rape songs. Only this morning, Daily Life wrote on the alarming trend of creepy Facebook pages where uni students ‘rate’ each other, with photos of young men and women often posted without their knowledge or consent. And what about that dude going viral today, after sneakily / creepily taking photos of the “woman of his dreams” at Woolies?!
It begs the question – why is the concept of respectful behaviour and consensual relationships still so hard for so many people to grasp?
It absolutely might have something to do with our lack of comprehensive sex ed programs in schools. Research indicates young people are learning about the birds and the bees from porn and pop culture – two sources that aren’t always reliable for providing healthy attitudes towards sex and relationships.

Melbourne‘s La Trobe University took a step in the right direction today, as they hosted ‘Get A Yes Before You Undress’, a candid panel discussion about all things sex and consent.
Adjudicated by Triple J‘s Jo LauderBen Law (writer and creator of SBS series The Family Law) was joined by Western Bulldogs midfielder Marcus Bontempelli, Vixens netballer Kate Moloney and academic Sue Dyson as they presented an open dialogue to a bunch of students at the university’s Bundoora campus.
(L – R): Imogen Barker, Ben Law, Kate Moloney, Jo Lauder, Sue Dyson & Marcus Bontempelli.
The panel agreed that while sometimes not having consent to engage in sexual activity with another person is deafeningly obvious (like when said person is completely pissed, unconscious or underage), other times it’s not so straightforward.

“The actual lived experience of consent is far blurrier, said Ben Law. “But just having consent is a pretty low bar; it should be about enthusiasm, too. And pleasure.”

When asked about the sex ed he received during his schooling years, Ben had the audience giggling as he remarked, with perfect comedic timing: “my sex education at school was pretty ad hoc, and not relevant, because I’m gay!”
What makes things even murkier is that the legal age of consent varies from state to state. In all Australian states bar South Australia and Tasmania, the legal age for hetero (p in the v) sex is 16. Interestingly, under QLD law, anal sex-havers must wait until they’re 18 to get jiggy with it. 

“It’s a hangover from the ’90s,” said Ben, referring to the Sunshine State having not passed the gay law reform until 1990.
Another bloke on the panel, 20-year-old Marcus Bontempelli, was clearly passionate about promoting equality. Australian Rules Footballers often don’t have the best rep when it comes to challenging gender stereotypes, but he hopes to change this through his role as an Ambassador for violence-prevention organisation, The Line.

A photo posted by @marcus_bontempelli on

“From a footy perspective, I think we’ve taken big strides of late, particularly with the introduction of the women’s league. I think the AFL, in many aspects, is really trying to send a clear message that equality is equal opportunity,” he said.

“We need to speak out against anything that belittles, degrades, or frightens women, even if it’s our mates who are engaged in that sort of behaviour. It’s hard, and it feels pretty uncomfortable to call out your mates, but I see strength in respect.

“Across the league, we could probably get better at growing the support, and sending a positive message. I’m very conscious of trying to extend that support.”
Support that would no doubt be bolstered by the Safe Schools initiative, which at present is looking to go forward only in Victoria. Props to La Trobe for setting a damn fine example by facilitating this talk, and for having these posters plastered around the place on O-Week:
We hope what went down today gains a bit more momentum and becomes the norm. We’d all benefit from it.

This initiative was organised by violence-prevention organisation Our Watch, whose mission to end violence against women and their children. You can learn more about the incredible and important work they do HERE. If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.