The federal Education Department has removed two videos from its new respectful relationships education website after two state education ministers pilloried the content and experts said the package was insulting to young people.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said he would not recommend the sex education resource, which was released last week, to public schools, while NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell described “The Good Society” site as “pretty woeful”.
Deakin University’s Deb Ollis, one of the architects of Victoria’s respectful relationships program, said the package was “very poor teaching material” and other sexual violence experts have described the material as “victim-blaming and moralising”.
The $3.8 million package is part of the Morrison government’s Respect Matters program and is designed for prep to year 12 students. It is already under fire for using “bizarre” videos about milkshakes and nachos to teach consent, not introducing the concept of sexual consent until year 10 and reinforcing gender stereotypes.
Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino labelled the resource “a big fail” and called on the federal government to remake the educational tool.
“I’ve got to be frank with you, I was pretty disappointed,” Mr Merlino said on Tuesday.
“It was confusing, it was cringeworthy, it did not hit the mark.”
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell also criticised the resource on Tuesday, labelling it “pretty woeful” and a missed opportunity.
“I think the conversations that I’ve been having with young people around consent and respectful relationships education, is they want it to be explicit. They want to have an honest conversation about these issues.
Associate Professor Ollis said she found the whole situation incredible.
One video says there are four things humans want, food, money, power and love – I think you’ll find more women want safety.
“There has been no consultation with academics or practitioners in the field nationally,” she said.
“The videos that have been developed are insulting to young people … I cannot believe an educator in the sexuality and relationships field have developed these. They are likely to do more harm than good with unsuspecting teachers who are likely to have had no professional development.”
Kerrin Bradfield, chairperson of the Australian Society of Sexologists, the accreditation agency for sexuality teaching in Australian schools, dubbed the materials “disgusting, incredibly harmful and dangerous”, in part because they place the onus on prevention of sexual assault on the victim.
“It [The Good Society package] is really stepping back a lot of the progress we have made in the last few years, certainly the last 18 months to get this conversation [about consent and sexuality eduction] on the table. One video says there are four things humans want, food, money, power and love – I think you’ll find more women want safety,” said Ms Bradfield.
“Time and again we’ve failed to hold perpetrators to account and that’s pretty much what this curriculum is reinforcing. The onus is on young women to respectfully respond to boundary violations.”
“One piece of suggested advice for a young person experiencing sexual violence is simply to ignore it, or they could risk their reputation being damaged. It is just face-palmingly bad, how is that OK?”
RMIT’s Nicola Henry, who has 20 years experience researching sexual violence, described the videos as “appalling” and said she couldn’t believe the one in which sexual assault was compared with a milkshake being smeared on a boy’s face by a girl had been made.
“It trivialises sexual violence by trying to make the issue of consent fun and light,” said Associate Professor Henry.
“This can cause harm because it doesn’t give out the right messages … about what consent is and what sexual violence is.”
She said it was “frankly disgraceful” that senior experts in sexuality education curriculum development who have expertise in gender-based violence and sexual violence “weren’t consulted in the rollout and design of prevention and intervention material.”
Karen Willis, outgoing executive officer of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia and a 40-year veteran in the field of sexual violence prevention, said the package was moralising and fails to target poor behaviour, rather it “targets those who might experience poor behaviour which is on the track to victim blaming”.
“Straight away that is major disaster 101. You need to target the poor behaviours.”
Ms Willis and other experts who spoke to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald said it was critical victim-survivors were consulted in the creation of material about sexual violence prevention, but their voice had not been included in The Good Society material and nor had the advice of most of the nation’s most experienced experts in the area of sexuality education and violence prevention.
National violence-prevention agency Our Watch put out a statement clarifying its role in producing the material after the federal government noted the body has been consulted in the production of The Good Society package.
“As part of a confidential process, Our Watch was consulted between late 2017 and early 2019 when the [The Good Society] materials were being developed and provided advice. We have not been asked to use or endorse the materials subsequently,” the statement said.
“Our Watch advocates for a whole-of-school approach to violence prevention education that addresses the gendered drivers of violence … This approach works to create sustainable change across the whole school and has significant international and national evidence supporting it. ”
However, Deakin University education professor Amanda Keddie said there were positive aspects to the resource, noting each topic was directly linked to the Australian curriculum and there were links to extensive professional learning support for teachers.
She said there were many resources in the year 11 and 12 curriculum that explicitly addressed sexual consent and that did mention rape and sexual assault, noting the resource “draws on some powerful video material to stimulate students’ interest in, and discussion about, each of the topics it addresses, and it addresses some topics like sexting very comprehensively”.
Professor Keddie said the material aimed at primary students provided good coverage of respect, friendships, empathy and good communication.
With Natassia Chrysanthos
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