15 December 2022
#MeToo, the global juggernaut that called out the extent of sexual harassment, particularly in corporate and celebrity circles, didn’t just create an awakening of the scale of these shared experiences, but also prompted a wider conversation on the importance of sexual consent and what steps are needed to eliminate sexual violence and harassment.
#TeachUsConsent rode this wave and surfaced as both a targeted campaign driven by young Sydney student Chanel Contos and her frustration at the shared stories of harassment and sexual violence among her North-Shore friendship group and a battle cry for curriculum reform. A focal point for the campaign was the momentum of thousands of young people who self-reported on Chanel’s website their own stories of sexual assault or harassment whilst at school. Over time, nearly 7000 testimonies were submitted, and the petition “for more holistic and earlier consent education to be introduced into the school curriculum” grew to 45,000 signatories.
Generating such an enormous number of signatories supporting a stated outcome is a reasonably legitimate campaign tactic. The issue was that some of the campaign messaging directly countered decades of expert advice that curriculum reform was meaningless without substantive cultural change, reinforcement through system wide application, and resourcing for schools and educators. Further, some of the campaign’s initial messaging implied a gender separatist approach to education; where girls received information about “slut shaming and coercion” and boys got to talk about “toxic masculinity”, contrary to evidence supporting an integrated learning model.[i] Other problematic messaging linked sexual assault perpetration with a lack of education[ii]. This messaging, combined with immense media coverage, had the potential to derail years of expert research and advocacy.
While #TeachUsConsent grew, experts in relationships and sexuality education worked to shift the narrative; that curriculum reform is just one element to relationships and sexuality education in schools, that it is not a panacea to social reform and that ‘consent’ alone does not make holistic sex education. Its website imagery, where the testimonies were posted, added little to the national conversation other than making consent education look like something only abundantly attractive Calvin Klein models needed, rather than everyone who has ever had or ever will have sex. Far from promoting inclusive and robust consent education informed by gender and power dynamics, the campaign’s billboard-style imagery perpetuates a desexualisation of disabled bodies, fat bodies, and bodies that don’t meet conventional beauty and gender standards. A scroll through the website’s pages provokes the question, ‘do only well-dressed, clean-shaven, glowy-skinned young people need sex education?’
Regardless of these criticisms, the campaign did carry a positive benefit for the public discussion on consent, the role of the national curriculum, and the importance of comprehensive consent education. Starting with the aim of getting three specific elite all-boys Sydney private schools to teach consent, #TeachUsConsent quickly surpassed its target, garnering widespread public support and motivating principals to announce reviews of their sex education programs and to write to their school communities about the importance of ‘doing more’. Since the campaign launched, its message has added to the growing public outcry for improved consent education and witnessed several new commitments to that effect. Namely, the Association of Independent Schools NSW has established a team to support schools in teaching respectful relationships and consent, and federal ministers have unanimously agreed to mandate comprehensive consent education, including an understanding of gendered stereotypes, coercion and power, in all Australian schools.
 4 Things To Know About ‘Teach Us Consent’ (refinery29.com)
 Sex, slut-shaming and Sydney schools: Why Chanel Contos is calling for education reform across Australia | SBS News