All public schools in Victoria will now introduce mandatory consent classes, an Australian-first initiative spurred by a wave of sexual harassment allegations in schools and students' cries that current guidance isn't good enough.
The new model will fall under the existing Respectful Relationships Program curriculum, which formally prioritised conversations around respect, sexuality, confidence and sexually transmitted diseases.
According to acting Victorian Premier James Merlino, classes will now also explicitly teach students about power imbalances, the relationship between alcohol and sexual abuse and how to provide and receive consent.
Merlino said the classes would begin as early as next month.
"[Respectful Relationships] is proven to make a real difference and is a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. It is a program that should be rolled out nationwide," Merlino told the Age. "But we have to listen to students, who say they want and need a greater focus on this issue in the classroom. It is why we will mandate the teaching of consent in all government schools in an age-appropriate way. This will ensure it is not just taught, but taught well right across the state."
We have to do more and we have to do better.— James Merlino (@JamesMerlinoMP) March 20, 2021
Respectful Relationships is nation leading and goes directly to the issue of consent.
But students tell us they want and need more. This is why we will mandate consent lessons in our schools.
Victorian Student Representative Council Chief Executive Nina Laitala applauded the decision before explaining that while the previous Respectful Relationship material was "great," more needed to be done to ensure teachers were fully equipped to discuss matters of consent.
Further professional development opportunities will be made available to teachers under the initiative.
"What we've heard is that [consent teaching] is inconsistent across schools and across areas, like most topics that are very personal," Laitala said, according to the Age.
The move comes in the wake of hundreds of confronting rape and assault allegations and testimonies of misogyny made by students, including incidents involving Melbourne's Wesley College, St Kevin's College, Haileybury and Xavier College.
The recent allegations follow crushing expositions and allegations of rape and assault within Australia's Parliament.
Over the past month, two separate rape allegations against distinguished Australian politicians and parliament staffers have come to light.
The cases have prompted mass protests across the country and calls for further funding for gender-based violence prevention, the establishment of a federal Gender Equality Act and a gender equity audit of Parliamentary practices.