The Australian government has been criticised for a new education campaign designed to teach schoolchildren about consent and sexual assault.
The online programme uses metaphors such as eating tacos and smearing milkshake on someone’s face to depict disrespect and abuse.
Equality activists have described the videos as “bizarre” and “concerning”.
The government has defended the campaign, which it said was created with the help of experts.
“These materials will provide additional support to better educate young Australians on these issues and have been designed to complement programmes already being offered by states and territories,” Education Minister Alan Tudge said when announcing the campaign last week.
The online learning platform, published on The Good Society website, includes more than 350 videos, stories and podcasts. It was developed as part of the Australian government’s Respect Matters programme, to teach respectful relationships in schools.
One video, designed for students aged between 14 and 17, shows a teenage girl smearing milkshake on her boyfriend’s face without his permission. The video then uses other examples of eating pizza and “touching your butt” as situations where permission would be required.
Another video about respecting other people’s decisions and choices shows a teenage girl doubting whether she wants to swim with sharks, while a boy tries to convince her to do so.
A section entitled “sex and gender norms” confuses “norms” and “myths”, for example by suggesting that ideas such as “males enjoy sex more than females” and “females that wear short skirts want sex” are examples of gender norms.
The Good Society’s website describes the learning material as an “engaging, flexible, online program that helps students develop safe, healthy and respectful relationships”.
But women’s rights activists and anti-rape campaigners say the content is harmful, avoids using the words sex, rape or assault and does not reflect realistic situations or relationships.
Like, teenagers are aware of what sex is? You can just say sex. Surely you would think that when trying to stop people from committing rape and sexual assault, we could just use the words.
— Matilda Boseley (@MatildaBoseley) April 19, 2021
Gender equality organisation Fair Agenda has launched a petition calling on the Australian government to work with violence prevention experts to replace the “concerning and bizarre” content.
“Young people deserve consent and respectful relationships training that practically and explicitly helps them understand how to ethically navigate relationships,” it said.
Fair Agenda also said the website failed to meet Australia’s national standards for the prevention of sexual assault through education. It uses the website’s “further information” page as an example, which tells students they can report “any sexual violation” to the Australian Human Rights Commission, but does not recommend telling a trusted adult or the police.
Sharna Bremner, the director of the Australian organisation End Rape on Campus, tweeted: “There is some good information on the site. But there’s also some really harmful stuff, which outweighs any of the good.”
Australian of the Year and sexual assault survivor Grace Tame said the videos were insulting the intelligence of adults and children alike.
“It minimises the experience of rape trauma, it fails to really address the nuances of this complex issue of consent,” she told The Drum programme on ABC TV.
The material has also been criticised for being out of touch with modern teenagers, by using references to the Hollywood movie Titanic, which was released 24 years ago, and The X-Files TV series, which finished its final season nearly 20 years ago.
This is the worst piece of consent education I’ve *ever* seen. The Morrison Govt is utterly out of touch.
Just let the actual experts write the content: Our Watch have piloted whole-of-school respectful relationships ed in Vic & Qld. Not online-only, confusing, weird ads #auspol https://t.co/ikgVmZtpUa
— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) April 19, 2021
what if we asked boys to think about consent without using object metaphors and instead to think about girls and women as people? not milkshakes, not cups of tea, not unlocked cars, just like, people
— Josephine Tovey (@Jo_Tovey) April 19, 2021
In a statement on 14 April, Australia’s education department said the programme had been developed in “conjunction with Our Watch, the eSafety Commissioner and the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), as well as parent, community and principals’ groups”.
However, Our Watch and the FYA have said that they were barely consulted. FYA told SBS News it introduced the government to a young person in its network who may have taken part in a confidential reference group in late 2017.
Our Watch, which works to prevent violence against women and children, said in a statement that it “was consulted between late 2017 and early 2019 when the materials were being developed and provided advice. We have not been asked to use or endorse the materials subsequently.”