‘Uncomfortable’ tales show need for reform

One was 12 years old the first time they were sexually assaulted.

Another groped by a friend while they were asleep.

“I would never have consented to public sex had I been sober,” a third said.

“Afterwards I went to the bathroom and cried.”

These harrowing stories were read out in the NSW parliament on Thursday, as it accepted a petition to overhaul sexual consent education in the state’s schools.

Bearing more than 20,900 signatures, the petition was sparked after 6000 people came forward with stories of their sexual assaults as students.

Greens MP for Newtown Jenny Leong introduced the petition to parliament a day after a historic bill to introduce an affirmative model of consent was tabled.

The stories made for uncomfortable listening, but demonstrated the need for further reform, she said.

“If I were to walk out on the street right now and ask the first woman that I saw if she had ever been harassed, assaulted, pressured, slut shamed… the answer would no doubt be yes,” she said.

“It’s happened to me, it’s happened to others in this chamber, and if we don’t change how we educate our young people, it will happen to our daughters and our granddaughters too.

“I don’t think any member in this place can say we are doing enough.”

That’s the key message of the petition, which calls for improvements to the sex education curriculum, to cover toxic masculinity, rape culture, slut shaming, victim blaming, sexual coercion, enthusiastic consent and queer sex education.

The petition had support from across the political spectrum, with members of the Greens, Liberals and Labor backing it in parliament.

“We need to address the issues of why and how women still feel unsafe and are unsafe,” Liberal North Shore MP Felicity Wilson said.

She shared the story of a constituent whose sex education was so poor she didn’t even realise she had been assaulted at the time.

“Being visibly too drunk to consent or being penetrated without my knowledge were things that I shrugged off at the time,” she quoted from the constituent.

“Teaching the importance of nuances of consent at a younger age is vital to the emotional wellbeing of both boys and girls.” Ms Wilson said.

Granville Labor MP Julia Finn praised former Kambala student Chanel Contos, whose compilation of the harrowing stories and advocacy brought the issue to national attention.

“I made contact with her as (her experience) was so similar to my own experience of sexual assault 28 years ago,” she said.

“The men who raped each of us… both of them came from quite privileged backgrounds, attended single sex schools and didn’t have a lot of contact with girls, and both of us had mistakenly thought that they were our friends.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to me that a generation after I was raped, the same problems remain and the same excuses are used.”

Speaking on behalf of the Education Minister, Geoff Lee pointed to the government’s consent law overhaul and a public pledge from NSW education leaders to improve consent education as progress.

The heads of the Catholic, independent and state school systems on in March signed a statement of intent after meeting with NSW Police about the issue.

“The NSW Government has heard the voices of victim-survivors loud and clear,” the Minister for Tertiary Education said.

He touted the state school’s Life Ready Program, a mandatory course for senior students which includes education on healthy relationships, and said professional learning programs and resources had been developed to help PDHPE teachers.

But Labor wants a better curriculum, developed and delivered by sex education experts.

“It is beyond time, let’s get it done,” shadow minister for women and the prevention of domestic violence Jodie Harrison said.

News Gaffer