Should education for respectful relationships be mandatory in Australian schools?
Disturbing findings from the latest national survey of attitudes toward violence against women have sparked a conversation about online pornography and the role of schools in providing relationship education.
Among its findings, the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey of young Australians aged 16-24 revealed some alarming and ill-informed beliefs among both males and females - but among males especially.
- Almost half of males (45%) believed “It is common for sexual assault accusations to be used as a way of getting back at men,” as did 29% of females.
- 18% of men and 10% women agreed “many allegations of sexual assault made by women are false.”
- 30% of men agreed “there’s no harm in men making sexist jokes about women when they are among their male friends” - compared to 14% of women.
- Nearly a third (31%) of males believe “many women tend to exaggerate the problem of male violence versus 18% of females - and nearly identical numbers agreed with the statement “A lot of times, women who say they were raped had led the man on and then had regrets.”
The link between such views and the messages of what has been called “the porn curriculum” are unmistakable, notes Family Zone cyber expert and youth relationships expert Dave Kobler.
“We’re talking about a generation of kids for many of whom online pornography is the main source of sex and relationship education,” says Kobler, co-director of Protect Our Kids, a leading digital health and wellbeing consultancy based in NSW.
“The messages they are getting from porn about violence against women are exactly what these findings reflect: that force is a normal part of a sexual relationship, that women enjoy being coerced and degraded, that ‘no’ often (if not usually) means ‘yes.’”
Kobler pointed to a recent study on the impact of porn exposure on Australian Year 7 students, conducted through the Medical School at the University of Sydney. Consistent with past research, the study found “clear negative effects” that included increased objectification of women and decreased social empathy.
The message for schools is powerful. At the minimum, to ensure duty of care, students’ access to online pornography needs to be blocked - both on the school network and also on any personal device brought to school.
But our responsibility to educate students about consent, respect and gender-based violence is first and foremost an educational imperative. Students need exposure to the reality of respectful relationships - as opposed to the false narratives and debased values of pornography - through awareness education that includes, but is not restricted to, responsible digital citizenship.