This month we celebrated International Women's Day, coming together as a community to recognise women leaders under the UN Women banner #womenlead. In a timely coincidence, Australia has recently heard a number of women raise their voices about important issues, issues that require urgent attention and change. Brittany Higgins. Chanel Contos. Grace Tame. Rape, sexual assault, the need for women’s stories to be heard and valued, and for action to be taken. The need for respect. No longer can we assume or hope that we are faring well in this regard. Recent events have shown that respectful relationships must be better nurtured and modelled by us all if we are to truly achieve equality and positive change.
The petition started by former Sydney student Chanel Contos has sparked a much-needed national conversation regarding consent. Chanel noted that her school 'provided me with life changing education on consent for the first time in Year 10. However, it happened too late and came with the tough realisation that amongst my friends, almost half of us had already been raped or sexually assaulted by boys from neighbouring schools.'
The conversation about consent is not simple, it relates to permission and how to show respect for self and for other people. Consent needs to be addressed in an age-appropriate way across all years of schooling, and that is our approach at Ruyton. Our focus on Respectful Relationships starts in the early years, with students learning how to affirm and respect personal boundaries, using non-sexual examples such as whether to share their toys or give hugs. It is also important they learn about public and private body parts and the importance of correct terminology. In later years, more intimate or sexual scenarios including consent and how it applies to the digital space are important. Older students need to learn sexual activity is something to be done with someone, not to someone. Consent is a critical part of this process and it must be freely given, informed and mutual.
Schools across Australia are now reviewing at what stage sexual consent is taught as part of the curriculum. We will revisit our School wide Wellbeing Programme and Health curricula which draws upon resources from the Resilience, Rights and Respectful Relationships material, ensuring we provide an age appropriate approach to this sensitive, but much needed, topic. We will also continue to offer expert counselling and health services for any student, past or present, who at any time requires further support in this area.
Parents and guardians also have a crucial role to play in supporting their children in relation to understanding sexual consent. Collectively we need to educate them on the importance of explicit boundaries, enabling them to respect themselves, their partners and others. A partnership between school and home will ensure consistent messaging on this subject and strengthen a young person’s social and emotional development. Michael Carr Gregg recently addressed the need for a collaborative approach in an excellent short video A Conversation on Consent which focused on the important role both schools and parents play in equipping young people with the skills and knowledge to negotiate relationships and also understand the repercussions of the absence of consent. It is in these two important matters that we can as adults ultimately protect, nurture and guide our young. In Michael Carr Gregg’s final words, together we also need to 'heed Chanel's call' and talk earlier rather than later.
We thank our community for continuing to work in partnership with us.
Linda Douglas, Principal
Trish Hatzis, Director of Wellbeing
Lauren Perfect, Deputy Principal/Head of Senior School
Kate Giles, Head of Junior School
Sarah Denholm, Director of Early Learning
Ruyton Girls’ School