The clamour for consent education in high schools is growing post the Wellington College rape comments, from journalists to petitions to sexual violence prevention groups to hundreds of secondary school students marching on parliament.
Education Minister Hekia Parata says no, we can leave it to parents, in a line borrowed straight from Family First. As with other FF stances, this makes little sense. Since our best information says nearly two thirds of child sexual abuse survivors experience that abuse from a family member, and for one in six that's a parent or a step-parent, "leaving it" to parents really doesn't seem like a safe idea.
It's a daft idea for another reason too. For a government that claims it's interested in evidence driving practice, Minister Parata's comments are even more embarrassing. Because consent education in high schools is the best tool we have to reducing the perpetration of sexual violence. And that's not a community group I have linked to, it's the ACC information page about the healthy relationships programme, Mates & Dates, developed for high schools in response to Roastbusters.
There are really two issues at play here. The first is about what good practice consent education looks like. And there's stacks of evidence about that, fortunately.
It doesn't look like one-off sessions in assembly, no matter how inspirational your speaker might be. In fact, it doesn't look like one-off sessions at all. It doesn't look like telling young people how horrible rape is, or about legal penalties, or telling them to wait to have sex. It doesn't look like raising awareness of sexual violence.
Consent education which works looks like skills-based activities which allow students to build on the consent skills they already have, and practice them in multiple non-sexual situations. It looks like enough dosage - 5 weeks - of sessions, happening weekly, over each of the five years of secondary school, so students can integrate the content and bring it to life in their worlds. It looks like trained facilitators who know their stuff and can manage young people disclosing abuse, because some will. It looks like a whole school approach which supports the sessions and becomes safer for all students.
That's just the set up. In terms of the content, it's vital consent education teach analytical skills for young people to analyse gender roles and expectations around sex. It needs to look at peer pressure, alcohol, the media, music. It needs to reinforce that consent is about seeking explicit enthusiasm as well as knowing what you want. It needs to be strengths-based, because that's how people learn, and open to diverse sexualities and genders, because that's how we have relationships. It needs to be adaptable enough to recognise and be able to tease out and respect different cultural beliefs around relationships and sex. And it needs to teach bystanding skills - how to intervene to help your friends or others stay safe - to undermine rape culture.
The five sessions of Mates & Dates for each year group cover healthy relationships; skills and consent; identity, gender and sexuality; when things go wrong; and keeping safe together. They have been designed with the evidence in mind, and they fit into the Health Curriculum but can be taught in any block of sessions schools make available.
So we have a programme which meets the evidence and is available for high schools right now.
Then there's the second issue. Is the slavish devotion to schools making their own decisions about this wise, or are we literally creating a rape lottery? Minister Parata is unwilling to make sure every student in New Zealand has access to programmes which reduce both the likelihood of experiencing and perpetrating sexual and dating violence.
How is this responsible governance? New Zealand has the highest rates of partner and sexual violence for women in OECD countries. The "cost" of family and sexual violence is estimated by government - and this is based on reported figures - to conservatively reach $6 billion every year. The figures I'm quoting come from a Cabinet Paper, not an advocacy group for survivors, and they miss out the high rates of sexual and partner violence reported in Rainbow communities, and the one in ten boys who report unwanted sexual contact in high school.
If we could change this, why wouldn't we? Secondary school students want help to dismantle rape culture, and they want consent education. The protests last week showed that, and so did the focus groups around the country that ACC ran in creating Mates & Dates. We have a problem with rates of violence, and it's costing enormous amounts of resources - not only for the state, but for individual survivors, their relationships, families and communities. We have one part of the solution, and it's even sitting in a box ready to go.
This should be an election issue, because every single party in New Zealand should want to prioritise their spending on sexual and family violence to make sure it doesn't happen in the first place. That's what consent education is, done right. Step up, politicians, listen to what people want and make sure schools become the safe places they should be for all students, not Roastbusters.