ActivePaper Archive Merlino calls for national consent education - The Age, 2/28/2021

Merlino calls for national consent education


Chanel Contos

Victoria’s education minister has called for a nationwide rollout of ‘‘Respectful Relationships’’ education in all schools in light of a public petition that has detailed hundreds of allegations of sexual assaults of school students across the country.

James Merlino has also instructed his department to meet with the young woman behind the petition – 22-year-old former Sydney schoolgirl Chanel Contos – to see where Victoria could improve.

Ms Contos launched the online petition a week ago calling for consent education to be taught at a younger age. By last night it ran to 70 pages, detailing hundreds of disturbing allegations of sexual assaults either while the victims were at school or soon after.

While consent is addressed in all Victorian state schools as part of the government’s ‘‘Respectful Relationships and Sexuality’’ program, private schools are free to make their own calls on how and when to run sex and relationship education in their curriculums.

Yesterday the body representing some of Melbourne’s most prestigious Catholic schools – including St Kevin’s College, Parade College, St Mary’s College, St Joseph’s College and St Bernard’s College – said the petition had pushed them to take action and signalled they would work with parents to address the issue.

‘‘The powerful testimonies provided by the many young women in the online petition are disturbing and are an indictment on societal decency,’’ said Edmund Rice Education Australia executive director Dr Craig Wattam.

‘‘All of us – schools, families, and the broader community – must carefully consider and revisit issues pertaining to sex education. More specifically, sexual consent education is required for both young men and women and we need to be providing this education in early adolescence.’’

Peter Houlihan, principal of allboys De La Salle College in Melbourne’s south-east, said the school was taking the petition seriously and would speed up plans to formalise messages around sexual consent for students.