An expert panel of University of Queensland researchers is examining the issue of sexual consent and will make recommendations to governments and schools about how to better teach young Australians about sexual violence.
Thousands of Australian students anonymously posted about their experiences this year in a viral online petition calling for consent to be the focus of sexual education of young Australians.
Professor Lisa Featherstone from UQ’s School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry has gathered the first inter-disciplinary team to thoroughly research what consent is, and how to best educate young people in the future.
“We really need to do better for young people,” Professor Featherstone said.
“They deserve factual information that is clear and gives them guidelines to work with.
“What we know is that not enough people get sex education.
“I still teach undergraduate students who have not had sex education in high school.”
Professor Featherstone’s team aims to work out what young people need to know about affirmative consent and what is the best way to get the message across.
“Affirmative consent is an enthusiastic ‘yes’ to sex,” she said.
“But what we find is that people who are in vulnerable situations are not able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, they don’t really have those options.
“In some relationships people might be vulnerable to pressure or outright coercion or even actual physical violence when they attempt to say no to sexual encounters.
“We want to see how consent operates in the real world and also prevent affirmative consent being used in courts to say that someone has consented, when in actual fact, they haven’t.”
The Federal Government will next year roll out a public advertising campaign about consent to inform young people and adults about respectful relationships and sexual violence.
The 16 UQ experts working on the research project expect policy briefings and educational material to be available to inform the debate.
“We’ve brought together people from history, criminology, education, the social sciences, politics, law, and social work and we’re all re-thinking the ideas around consent,” Professor Featherstone said.
“We’re also working with a range of non-government organisations and some secondary schools in Brisbane to work out how we can provide information around consent to people working on the ground.
“We’d like to provide research-based evidence to make sure we can prepare education that actually meets the needs of young people, particularly young women, to find out what these groups really want out of sex education.
Queensland politician Jonty Bush, who revealed she was the victim of sexual assault earlier this year, said the understanding of and response to sexual violence in Australia must continue to be a priority.
“Queensland has recently passed legislation regarding consent and mistake of fact and it was clear from this debate that a deeper analysis of affirmative consent would really benefit those policy discussions,” Ms Bush said.
“In the majority of rape allegations reported to police, the issue is rarely whether a sexual act occurred, but more often, whether there was consent freely and voluntarily given by all parties.
“I look forward to following this research and being briefed on its findings.”
Professor Featherstone’s research project, ‘Sexual Violence and the Limits of Consent’ was recently granted $599,000 funding from a special Federal Government Research Support Package (RSP) which aims to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Australia’s research.
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