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We’ve celebrated. Now let’s get back to work.

Content Warning: This blog post mentions sexual violence, rape, coercion, physical abuse and trauma.

Credit: @teachusconsent @chanelc

17 February 2022.

One year on since activist Chanel Contos launched a petition demanding Australian schools embed holistic consent education in the curriculum, it happened. After she empowered more than 44,000 people to sign the petition and another 6,700 victim-survivors came forward with their stories of sexual assault, she did it. Her and the volunteer team at Teach Us Consent put in countless hours of work to reach this point. Change-makers.

Ministers of Education around Australia unanimously committed to mandating holistic and age-appropriate consent education from kindergarten to year 10.

When I saw the announcement, I cried tears of joy. The new curriculum will incorporate comprehensive consent education including an understanding of gendered stereotypes, coercion and power imbalances. What a win. This is a monumental moment to be celebrated, and I know I sure did in the days following. But now…a week later, it feels like I was naïve to celebrate.

Despite the win, why do I still feel powerless? This is something I’ve been going over and over again in my head. Why was the win such a triggering event for me? It was meant to be a positive moment, but for some reason I still feel like it isn’t the answer. I don’t trust that consent education is what would have prevented those boys from raping me.

I think back to myself when I was a child and how vulnerable I was. How the 14-year boys who raped me and taunted me for years did so with such callousness and without any hesitancy at any point. How I told my friend who started dating one of them that he was dangerous, and she said I was just a slut and never spoke to me again. How I ended up in a cycle of violence for next 8 years of my life until I met my current partner who taught me that I deserve love and respect regardless of my trauma history; I deserve it just for being a human being.

Every single experience of sexual violence was different. Each perpetrator would change their tactics. One would use drugs, another coercion, and another physical violence. Until I ended up in hospital with no hope, only to come out and end up in an abusive relationship for more than a year. This was all before I turned 18. I was a child.

I know dwelling on my past experiences is not helpful. I know I can’t change what happened to me. Every year since I went to therapy in 2019, I remember another unwanted sexual experience that I forgot about. At this point, I don’t have enough fingers to count them.

What’s the point of consent education if those that claim to care are complicit in bringing down brave survivors when they challenge them? Recent attempts to attack Grace Tame and minimise her legitimacy and advocacy by exposing images that depict her post-traumatic growth journey – her ‘demons’ as she has described them - is why I feel this way.

Do they think changing the curriculum will shut us up? Well, they are very wrong.

Churchill Fellow and Relationships & Sexuality Education Advocate, Katrina Marson, is someone we should be listening to, now that schools have made the commitment to better consent education. Positive, comprehensive relationships and sexuality education is key to real change. We need to teach sexual wellbeing, not just advocate for the absence of harm.

We need decision makers to listen to the experts, like Katrina Marson. Here are some of her words:

We can’t just fix the curriculum and add in consent and say, “job done”. Schools have a significant amount of autonomy in how they deliver [consent education]. There are experts out there who know how to design and deliver really quality relationships and sexuality education that does what it’s intended to do.”

If we are going to do this, we need to do it right. We need experts like Katrina Marson in the room, guiding the way. We need activists like Chanel Contos to continue to be heard, listened to, and consulted in good faith by our leaders. Activists like this are paving the way for change and we need to uplift their efforts to make sure their intended impact meets its purpose.

Thank you, Chanel. The significance of this achievement cannot be understated, nor can the courage of the victim-survivors who came forward to give Chanel’s campaign its power.

We’ve celebrated. Now let’s get back to work.

Written by Camille Schloeffel

Founder, Director & Safeguarding Manager of The STOP Campaign

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