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Sexual consent

The courage of Chanel Contos to start a petition encouraging girls to report their experiences of sexual intimidation, sexual violence and rape as schoolgirls has been met with more than 3,000 responses and the support of Amnesty International.

The petition calls for schools to incorporate a “sexual consent education” much earlier in their curriculum. Chanel and 3,000 schoolgirls are right to call for a better and more comprehensive education for our children.

As I read some of the girls’ stories, especially those who experienced such awful treatment by some of our King’s boys, I was dismayed, saddened and angry at the extent of this social disease in our society. As a father of two girls and two boys, I want a better and safer world for our children. One cannot read the stories of these schoolgirls and not be moved to want and seek better. However, while the petition calls for better education, education is not enough. We need more.

I have been leading schools, both co-educational and single-sex, for the past twenty years across Australia. Sex-education, including sexual consent, the effects of pornography and the influence of alcohol have been included in a number of different curriculum programs from Year 7 through to Year 12 for both boys and girls. More commonly this education was introduced in Years 9 and 10 ahead of the onset of weekend and end-of-year parties that are increasingly being associated with Australian rites of passage.

Sadly, many of these parties involve children and alcohol and, worse, are often supported by parents and other adults who either turn a blind eye, go out for the night, or even supply the alcohol for the party. In my experience, children and alcohol don’t mix. I understand that some put the view that 16 years of age is old enough to be responsible with alcohol. However, they are not old enough for a driver’s license, and certainly not to drink and drive! And yet, do we really think that an intoxicated adolescent boy is going to have the presence of mind to recall his sex education curriculum and restrain himself at a boozed-up party when given the opportunity to pursue his porn-filled imagination and desire? If footballers and parliamentary staffers can’t do it, I think not. Our children need our support and supervision. Here’s some ways we can do that.

First, school. All schools cover sex education in PDHPE in Years 7 through to 10. The King’s School, however, has also been running the Boys2Men Program for Years 9 and 10 since 2011. This program has been expanded since 2017 to include more time on respectful relationships with an emphasis on understanding sexual consent, porn, drugs and alcohol, as well as the importance to step in and protect others. The School is in the process of expanding this program to extend across Years 7 to 10. Our boys take part in White Ribbon Day and, following Chanel’s petition, our Captain and Vice-Captain have taken the initiative to speak with their TARA counterparts with a view to working together to provide opportunities for further education and continuing cultural change in both schools. The recent establishment of The King’s Women’s Network is also an important way for our boys to experience the wisdom and leadership of teachers, mums and sisters in our School community.

Second, parents. Our children need parenting and the faithful support and supervision of adults. We need to take responsibility for parties and events that are held in our homes and ensure that we do not provide or allow alcohol to be served to under-age children. Where alcohol is permitted, we need to ensure that it is responsibly served and that we do not put others at risk or in vulnerable situations. We have an important role to model for our boys on how to relax and celebrate responsibly. Societal expectations have changed significantly since the 1970s and 1980s. Increasingly, conduct that occurred in the past is being judged and held to account in the present. We have seen this with a number of Royal Commissions. I expect there will come a day when we will be held to account for conduct that has contributed to the harm of children due to alcohol, porn and parties. Perhaps that day has come.

Third, police and law enforcement. The King’s School has a policy of reporting any matter that is of a criminal or unlawful nature to police. This includes any matter that concerns our students or families, whether on-site or off-site, during school hours or out of school hours. Further, any student that has been responsible for anything of a criminal or unlawful nature can expect to have their continuing enrolment immediately reviewed. The School regularly invites local police to speak to our boys at assemblies on their civic responsibilities and how they can better support their peers. This has been particularly important for helping our boys better understand their on-line safety, security and responsibility. Cyber-safety and sexting are increasingly important areas for society to address.

Fourth, media. Television and on-line media are fuelling our society and children with sex-charged programs and pornography. Our children have more access to more extreme material that invariably fuels their imaginations and party aspirations. Further, having poured fuel on the fire, they then want to blame the student and their schools. Many will recall the news reports last year of a number of school students involved in Year 12 “muck-up days” involving a range of inappropriate and unlawful behaviour across Sydney. I remember watching the evening news program on one of the commercial television channels, where the news-reader castigated the students, and their school, for encouraging public nudity. At the conclusion of the segment, the channel advertised the program to follow: Celebrities Full Monty! To be honest, I do not hold much hope for our media in this regard. However, we do have parents and graduates involved in the media who may be able to influence our society for the better – let’s hope so.

Fifth, government. Our governments can, and should, provide and support public communication campaigns to influence public opinion and behaviour. For example, our governments have consistently provided campaigns concerning significant societal issues such as anti-smoking, drink-driving and domestic violence. The significance and complexity of this issue requires a societal approach to healthy relationships and sex, that addresses the problematic issues of access to porn and alcohol by our children. Our governments have a central role in upholding the public good, and the safety and wellbeing of our children must always be one of our top priorities, if not the top!

There are no doubt many more ways and areas in which we can instigate and follow through with change for the betterment of our society. The King’s School mission statement declares, The King’s School is a Christian community that seeks to make an outstanding contribution for the good of society through our quality of teaching, our students and our leadership in education. It is not the School as an institution that achieves this, it is our School community of students, parents, Old Boys, staff and families. Should you want to be more personally involved or want to know more, please let us know through improve@kings.edu.au, or let me know personally by writing to me at headmaster@kings.edu.au.

Tony George, Headmaster

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