ActivePaper Archive ‘It’s not a joke, it never will be, never was' - The Age, 3/3/2021

‘It’s not a joke, it never will be, never was'


The schoolyard sledge stopped Sienna Gladstone in her tracks: while playing basketball, the 16-year-old had just knocked the ball out of a male classmate’s hands.

Angry at being beaten, the boy turned to her and said within earshot of others: ‘‘You deserve to be raped.’’

‘‘Even some of the guys were like, ‘That’s disgusting’, ’’ she said.

Sienna, an executive on the Victorian Student Representative Council and a year 10 student at a co-ed school in Warrnambool, said the comment made her feel uncomfortable, even though she knew the threat wasn’t real.

Jokes about rape are almost normal at school these days.

‘‘I think we’re on the borderline of using the word rape as a joke and it’s not a joke, it never will be, it never was,’’ she said.

Her own experience of being taught about consent at school – one 45-minute period – was interspersed with classmates’ jokes.

‘‘It’s not taken seriously and I think that stems from people feeling uncomfortable to talk about such a serious topic,’’ Sienna said.

The issue of sexual consent among school students has been reignited after a petition calling for better sex education was shared across the country.

Hundreds of young women came forward with disturbing allegations of sexual assault and rape from their time as students or soon after.

More Victorian schools were named in hundreds of new testimonies published online on Monday night as part of the petition.

Schools named included Carey Baptist Grammar, St Kevin’s, Xavier College and Haileybury College, plus several schools in regional Victoria. The petition has forced many Victorian principals to address their school communities and commit to doing more.

The testimonies have been published anonymously. One 2018 graduate said they had been sexually assaulted by a graduate of Xavier College, which they said was due to a lack of ‘‘nuanced discussion about sexual assault and consent in schools’’.

A Carey Baptist Grammar School student, who graduated in 2012, spoke of being 16 at a party when she passed out on a bed and was sexually touched by another student at the school while she cried and asked him to stop.

A spokeswoman for Carey Baptist Grammar said the school had no knowledge of the claim in the testimony, but ‘‘would be very keen to support any student, current or past, that may have been impacted in this way’’. Principal Jonathan Walter had written to families ‘‘reinforcing the importance of robust discussions on the issue of consent with young people’’.

Another young woman said she had been at a large party and woke the next day to find an Instagram picture of her passed out next to a boy she didn’t know who attended St Kevin’s College. He had his hands up her dress and had posted it publicly.

On Monday, St Kevin’s College principal Deborah Barker sent a letter to parents of year 7 to 12 students about the petition. The school was embroiled in controversy last year after video footage was published of boys chanting aggressively sexual songs on a public tram.

‘‘The various media reports over the weekend concerning the issue of sexual consent and highlighting courageous and confronting testimonies by young women of how they have been treated by young men have been very distressing,’’ Ms Barker said. ‘‘We clearly need to do more, or educate differently.

A Xavier College spokesman said they took the matter ‘‘extremely seriously’’ and students from primary school age are educated around the concept of consent. The school also addressed the concerns in a letter released last week.

The petition was was created last month by Sydney woman Chanel Contos, who began discussing consent issues at private schools in the eastern suburbs with her friends.