Calls for compulsory consent education in all schools continue

Image: Jorge Royan

High school students, advocates and academics are continuing to call for mandatory education in schools focused on consent and healthy relationships.

The calls for mandatory consent education are in response to a series of recent comments supportive of rape culture made online by school students. At Wellington College, boys made comments condoning rape and later threats against students marching on parliament to demand compulsory education.

In a separate incident, boys at St. Patrick’s in Silverstream inappropriately filmed female teachers in what the college called a "most distressing incident of sexual harassment." The two teachers subsequently resigned while the boys remain at the school, prompting a concerned parent to call the response a spectacular moral failure.

Students from Christchurch college St Bede's were also sent home from a rowing regatta after making inappropriate comments about a female rower on social media. A number of other incidents have previously been reported in the media since the so-called "Roastbusters" group in West Auckland.

Wellington's Sexual Abuse Prevention Network supports the young people’s call for education, saying:

"We need programmes to be in every year level in every school. It is important that students receive this education each year at school. We are talking about cultural overhaul – this is not a quick fix where we see behavioural and attitude change after one lesson. Messages that promote healthy positive sexuality need to be reinforced throughout a students’ experience at high school. Additionally, it is important that specialist training and support is also available to teachers to support their ability to reinforce the messages and respond appropriately when issues arise."

The Education Review Office (ERO) is currently auditing how sexuality education is taught in schools. The findings from the previous Education Review Office audit in 2007 were that most sexuality education programmes were not meeting students' needs effectively.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said consent education would not be compulsory and is best left to the family.

Research shows child sexual abuse is most likely to perpetrated by family members and many children and young people experience or witness family violence at home.

Sexual violence prevention education in New Zealand schools

Sexuality, relationships and violence prevention education come under Health and Physical Education in the New Zealand Curriculum (2007). However schools are free to decide how they teach it, after consultation with their school community which they must carry out every two years.

In 2014, ACC launched its Mates and Dates healthy relationships programme. This is a multi-year programme that is taught to years 9-13 in one 50-minute session each week for five weeks. Mates & Dates aims to teach young people how to:

  • have healthy relationships based on respect, negotiation and consent
  • identify inappropriate behaviour
  • get help if they, or someone they know, are in an unhealthy relationship
  • safely intervene in situations that could lead to harm.

Stuff recently reported that while Mates and Dates is available to all schools nationwide, only 23% of high schools have taken it up, or 87 high schools out of the 368 it is available to.

The NZ Association of Counsellors (NZAC) is calling for universal access to programmes like ‘Mates and Dates’ in all NZ high schools.

In 2015, New Zealand's Ministry of Education published revised guidelines for sexuality education which directly addressed issues of consent and coercion for the first time. However teaching in line with the guidelines is not required.

Associate Professor Katie Fitzpatrick from the University of Auckland wrote in the NZ Herald:

"Some schools have excellent health education and sexuality education programmes but many do not. Problematically, the Ministry of Education does not require schools to teach sexuality education. While they published a current guide for sexuality education in schools in 2015, there has been no meaningful professional development or support for teachers, and no extra resources to support this work."

Funding of primary prevention currently makes up just 1.5% of the Government's spending on family and sexual violence.

Related research and resources

The Wireless comic artist Toby Morris published an animated cartoon on simple things he wishes someone had told him as a teenage boy.

CDC has produced Dating Matters: Interactive Guide on Informing Policy on teen dating violence prevention (2017). Looking at both organisational and public policy, the guide provides a useful framework for ensuring that the best available data, evidence, and practice are included in policy development, implementation, and evaluation.

Internationally, comprehensive schools-based programmes have shown to be effective in preventing sexual and partner violence among young people. Research found that students who participated in the Safe Dates programme (USA) reported 56% to 92% less physical, serious physical, and sexual dating violence victimisation and perpetration than teens who did not participate in Safe Dates.

NZFVC compilation of resources on healthy relationships (2015)

Selected media

Integrated approach best for sexuality education, Family Planning, 08.08.2017

Wellington students' sex education petition supported by women's council, Press release: National Council of Women, 08.08.2017

What Kiwi teens really think about sex education, NZ Herald, 09.08.2017

Petition calls for sex education in schools to include LGBT, Stuff, 08.08.2017

Fewer than half of schools use Government-endorsed programmes that teach consent, Stuff, 14.05.2017

Rape culture is alive and well: Shelley Bridgeman, NZ Herald, 05.04.2017

Less than 1 in 4 high schools sign up to sex ed programme focused on consent, Stuff, 03.04.2017

Sex education - are schools getting it right? Radio NZ, 31.03.2017

What teaching sexuality in schools might look like, Newsroom, 26.03.2017

Big read: How do we teach our kids about sex and consent?, NZ Herald, 25.03.2017

Changes to sex ed in schools needed to end rape culture - campaigners, Newstalk ZB, 21.03.2017

Pornography, education and consent, Newsroom, 20.03.2017

Teaching consent – is it the answer to rape culture? Nicola Gavey, Sexual Politics Now, 16.03.2017

Wellington College rape comments apology doesn't mention women, Radio NZ, 16.03.2017

No changes will be made to sexual consent classes in school - Ministry of Education, Newstalk ZB, 16.03.2015

Men need to fix New Zealand's rape culture, Opinion: Emma Kelly, Stuff, 15.03.2017

Sexual violence double-standards need to go, Opinion: Catriona MacLennan, Radio NZ, 14.03.2017

Katie Fitzpatrick: Sexual relationship education should be in schools, Opinion, NZ Herald, 10.03.2017

Wellington College headmaster: sex comments 'real', have 'serious consequences', Newshub, 10.03.2017

Rape jokes are shocking - but sadly, they're not a surprise, Reader report, Stuff, 10.03.2017

Wellington College scandal: Legal action taken over boys' identities, Radio NZ, 10.03.2017

Talk about ‘it’ says White Ribbon to men, Press Release: White Ribbon, Scoop, 09.03.2017

Rape comments happen 'every single day' - student, Radio NZ, 08.03.2017