four women sitting on the ground posing for a photo

Sexual consent education program wins $1.1 million research boost

31 July 2023
Researchers to look beyond consent to gender and sexuality norms
Professor Lee Wallace and Dr Victoria Rawlings from the University of Sydney's Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC) to support Consent Labs with school programs that seek to prevent sexual and gendered violence.

Researchers in SSSHARC have won a $1.1 million grant to support Consent Labs, a national female-founded social enterprise and a leading provider of youth-facilitated, evidence-based consent and respectful relationship workshops in over 150 NSW schools. The two-year research grant has been awarded by the Department of Communities and Justice to prevent gendered violence in schools through innovative educational programs and resources, including workshops and games, that can be implemented at scale. 

Consent Labs’ existing programs span modules on what consent looks like, how consent is influenced by factors such as technology, or alcohol and other drugs, and sexual violence. The programs developed with the University of Sydney will look at the wider landscape of consent, including gender and sexuality norms. 

Dr Vic Rawlings

Dr Victoria Rawlings, senior lecturer in Education and ARC DECRA Fellow, said the research partnership will support the development of rigorous research-based interventions around gender and inclusivity.

“Schools are seeking programs that deal with the wider landscape of consent and how it intersects with gender, sexuality and inclusivity,” Dr Rawlings said. “Our job as a team is to create educational resources that support a collaborative investigation of gender and sexuality norms, including how they relate to sexual and gendered violence.”

“Programs like this support the wellbeing of all students regardless of gender or sexuality,” Dr Rawlings said.

four women sitting on the ground posing for a photo

SSSHARC Director Professor Lee Wallace with Angelique Wan and Christina Chun from Consent Labs, and Dr Vic Rawlings. Photo by SSSHARC Photographer in Residence, Associate Professor Cherine Fahd.

Angelique Wan, CEO and Co-Founder of Consent Labs said that intersectionality, which recognises that the impact of inequality is magnified if it is experienced in multiple forms, has always been a core tenet of the organisation and influences the design and delivery of all education offerings. 

“Research tells us that there are specific groups of people within our community that are at higher risk of experiencing sexual violence. At Consent Labs, we have seen how LGBTIQ+ people are marginalised or silenced in traditional sexual education curriculums, and we are so passionate about changing this status quo.”

Christina Chun, Chair of Consent Labs, applauded the support of the NSW Government. “We're incredibly excited by the Department of Communities and Justice's support, validating the critical and urgent need for comprehensive consent education. Consent Labs as a social enterprise champions a community-led collaboration; bringing together government and industry to drive systemic change in consent, gender, and sexuality norms." 

About Consent Labs

Angelique Wan and Dr Joyce Yu came up with the idea for youth-led consent workshops when they were undergraduates and realised there was no shared language for discussing consent. At Consent Labs, they designed the kind of workshops they wished they had encountered in high school.  

All Consent Labs’ workshops are delivered by trained teams of youth facilitators in person or online. They are age appropriate and aligned with PDHPE/HPE curriculums across Australia. 

“We know that schools want these resources”, said Wan, “Young people consistently tell us that they want sex and consent education that is inclusive, and we know that teachers largely feel unequipped to cover these topics. We are here to address this need and support all stakeholders to have these conversations.”

Consents Labs, Professor Wallace and Dr Rawlings will be co-designing the innovative programs directly with young people. The programs will then be rolled out by Consent Labs and their facilitators across NSW. 

The team will also include international experts and Dr Xavier Ho, a Junior Visiting Chair in the Hunt-Simes Institute of Sexuality Studies at the University of Sydney, who has a research focus on games.  

Research background

Australian research has shown the vast majority of parents support explicit teaching and learning about gender and sexuality diversity. In a survey of more than 2000 parents across Australian government (public) schools, more than 80 percent of respondents indicated they supported gender and sexuality diversity inclusion as part of the relationships and sexual health curriculum from kindergarten through to year 12.

Whole school approaches to gender and sexuality diversity also have the potential to reduce bullying.

While figures from Australia are unavailable, research from the US indicates that 80 percent of students will experience some kind of gender-based bullying during their primary and high school studies, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity.

Common examples of this include girls who are sexually stigmatised if they wear particular clothes or makeup, and boys who are targeted if they are not into sports or refuse to look at pornography. Similarly, transphobic bullying can happen when students do not fit neatly into binary gender understandings. 

Dr Rawlings’ research has revealed that teachers sometimes fail to recognise that homophobic language could be harmful to students. “When moments of homophobia or gendered aggression occur, it is often dismissed as not serious or as an inevitable product of adolescent relationships,” said Dr Rawlings. 

“These dismissals can communicate to students that these actions have no cultural or institutional consequences.” 

“Programs that address aggression based on gender norms and associated sexualities enable a more positive learning and social environment overall so that students can stop policing their own behaviour in fear of becoming targets,” Dr Rawlings said.  

Declaration: This project is one of 14 that have received between $100,000 and $1.5 million through the Sexual Violence Project Fund grants program. This program supports the delivery of actions under the NSW Sexual Violence Plan 2022-2027.

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