After failing so comprehensively to understand women’s experience of rape that nearly 100,000 women felt compelled to march in protest, you might think the government would take consent education seriously.
Not only because it would be the politically smart thing to do, but because men have raped millions of Australian women (as federal government statistics, like those collected by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), consistently show).
Clearly, teaching young men to not rape women is, tragically, critical to women’s safety.
You might think this would be a priority for your government.
You might even think they would care enough about it to consult widely and ensure they had put together a truly effective and well-informed education program on consent.
You might think that, but you’d be wrong.
After a litany of own goals that led to a crash in its approval ratings from women, the government has doubled down with a ludicrously ham-fisted suite of consent education videos, targeted at year 10 to 12 students.
It’s quite a challenge to get so much so wrong on consent and respectful relationships, but it appears this is one challenge the Morrison government is well able to meet.
The list of failures is long and would be hilarious if this wasn’t so serious.
- A boy aiming a speargun into the distance as he sits next to a fearful girl
- Another boy lifting weights next to a slim girl standing passively in a weight-loss machine
- Drawing a deeply insulting equivalence between rape and eating tacos
- Coyly avoiding any mention of sex, as if 16 to 18-year-olds might never have heard of it
- Not even addressing the concept of consent with students until they’re in year 10, contrary to the advice of almost every expert in the country
- Disrespectful relationships explained by showing a mean girl smearing a milkshake over the face of a poor, hapless white boy, ignoring all the evidence that shows violence is overwhelmingly committed by men against women
- A disturbing emphasis on fixing or staying in a relationship (despite the milkshake disrespect) because she’s pretty and has wavy hair and kisses
- Relating to the youngsters with pinball machines and badminton
- Videos with sets that look like Play School leftovers
- The voiceover for the video in the technology section for year 10 to 12 students that sounds like it was recorded for the Play School demographic
- Commissioning a grandad-professor-from-the-1950s type to do the voiceover about sex and rape – without ever actually mentioning sex or rape
- The video called “Kiss”, about girls being the conflicted gatekeepers of sex, while boys pursue sex with no conflict or questions.
And that is far from a complete list.
Unsurprisingly, the people who understand consent and respectful relationships education have been scathing about this material.
The material at hand was released for the federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment through The Good Society website, as part of the Respect Matters program.
The content was announced last week by Education Minister Alan Tudge (of Robodebt infamy) and Minister for Women’s Safety, Anne “women drive on roads, too” Ruston.
Fair Agenda, End Rape on Campus, Deakin University chair in education Amanda Keddie, Churchill fellow Katrina Marson and president of the Australian Association for Adolescent Health Melissa Kang are just some of the people who have publicly criticised these videos.
Even Our Watch, which relies on government funding and is therefore forced to be risk averse and circumspect, has publicly distanced itself from the government’s approach.
If you follow the links through The Good Society’s website, you travel through a YouTube Video entitled Hallah’s Story: How porn led to my sexual abuse (Really? Porn did? Not the man who chose to abuse her?) and end up on a site called Fight the New Drug.
FTND is a US-based public charity, which claims to have no religious affiliation, despite all its founding members being Mormon and as The Atlantic’s James Hamblin notes, “its facts rely on claims from Mormon author Donald Hilton’s He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
This is not the only American link. The videos have a strangely American slant.
They talk about grabbing someone’s “butt” – not the far more Australian “bum”.
A suitcase of money in one of the videos is greenbacks, not garishly coloured Australian dollars.
Another section links to an American woman’s Twitter tale of how getting drunk put her in danger (she was saved by a kind white knight).
There’s no information available on the site about who wrote the content or the scripts for the videos.
Despite direct questions, the department has not provided any information about who wrote this content, other than unnamed “experts”.
Knowing the snail’s pace of government initiatives, it’s unlikely this was all created after the train wreck that has been the Morrison government’s dealings with women over the past few months.
But it’s still difficult to understand how they managed to get this so comprehensively wrong when getting it right would have been so easy.
Consent should not be difficult to explain, but if any Coalition ministers or staffers were struggling, actual experts are not difficult to find.
Universities, community groups, not-for-profits and rape crisis organisations are full of them.
Why then, did Mr Tudge or his department not find any of the real experts – who are either laughing or screaming (or both) after seeing these videos?
Why, after months of criticism for their failure to understand rape and sexual harassment, did it not occur to anyone in the government to wonder what criticism they might cop on their approach to consent training?
Why, after so long, are they still so incapable of understanding the very basics of consent that these bizarre, ignorant and dangerous videos didn’t leap out at anyone and say, “THIS LOOKS LIKE IT WAS SCRIPTED BY BORAT. STOP THIS. STOP IT RIGHT NOW.”
It’s yet another demonstration of Scott Morrison’s ministers being, at best, apathetic about making real change to men’s violence against women.
And so, we end up here again. Another week.
Another easily avoidable own goal by the Morrison government, which appears to be still, completely incapable of understanding women – even when it is in its own self-interest to do so.
If they keep shooting themselves in the foot like this, they’re soon going to find they have nothing left to stand on.
Jane Gilmore is a freelance journalist with a strong interest in campaigning against violence against women. She also founded The Kings Tribune
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