Modern Australian Magazine

Making sexual consent matter: one-off courses are unlikely to help

  • Written by Bianca Fileborn, Lecturer in Criminology, UNSW
Making sexual consent matter: one-off courses are unlikely to help

In the wake of the findings of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) 2017 national report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities, a number of universities have introduced mandatory courses on sexual consent for new students.

Of all students who participated in the AHRC inquiry, 26% experienced some form of sexual harassment in a university setting in 2016. Just over half had experienced sexual harassment at least once in the year prior to the survey.

To date, most of these universities – including the University of Melbourne, University of Sydney, ANU and La Trobe – have implemented the Consent Matters online module.

Epigeum developed the course with advice from academic experts. The one-off session takes around one hour to complete and covers a range of topics relating to sexual consent and communication, bystander intervention, and seeking support for sexual assault.

But the introduction of Consent Matters has met with criticism from groups that claim the online module is tokenistic and unlikely to be effective, and that it has not been evaluated.

If universities introduce educational programs that don’t meet criteria for effective practice, these programs will be useless at best, and counterproductive at worst.

Read more: Universities have a problem with sexual assault and harassment: here's how to fix it

‘What works’ in education about consent?

There is a growing body of evidence from literature reviews of sexual ethics and respectful relationships education that informs some best practice principles for program delivery.

This evidence has consistently indicated one-off programs are not effective. These have been identified as an example of what not to do.

In comparison, programs that run over a greater number of sessions can be effective in shifting attitudes, knowledge and behaviours. But even for longer programs, these positive benefits can drop off over the longer term. This means there is a need to ensure key messages are consistently repeated and reinforced.

Evaluation of programs is an essential component of best practice in respectful relationships education. This makes it particularly concerning that the Consent Matters module is being widely implemented, apparently without any rigorous and systematic evaluation.

It’s also curious universities have decided to implement an un-evaluated module when well-evaluated and effective programs for university-age students, such as Sex & Ethics, have been developed.

Read more: Forget the pick-up lines – here's how to talk about your sexual desires and boundaries

A whole-of-community approach is a fundamental aspect of effective respectful relationships education. This means the promoted values and behaviours are modelled throughout and integrated into all aspects of community (or university) life.

In this sense, a one-off module is far from sufficient in the absence of widespread and systemic changes within a university. Likewise, if universities fail to take sexual harassment and assault seriously when they happen, this undermines the messages delivered through programs.

Introduction to Epegium’s Consent Matters course.

Taking consent online

Another claim levelled against Consent Matters is that an online course is unlikely to be an effective means of delivering this type of education. This critique is perhaps less well founded.

Online modules on sexual consent are under-evaluated to date. Some researchers have argued that, if well designed and informed by theory, online sex education modules have the potential to be effective. This arguably applies to respectful relationships as well.

That said, evaluations of violence prevention programs have also found young people value the opportunity to talk with their peers and share opinions. Providing opportunities for in-person participation and engagement are best practice principles of respectful relationships education. Together, this suggests these programs are likely to benefit from face-to-face components.

It’s important there is a clear rationale and theory for the design and delivery of such education. If online delivery is included, this should be because it’s an effective way of delivering aspects of the course. It should also meet the learning needs of the intended audience, not because it’s a cheaper or seemingly easier option.

Read more: Yes means yes: moving to a different model of consent for sexual interactions

Getting enthusiastic about consent

Overall, the evidence suggests Consent Matters is unlikely to achieve long-term changes in students’ knowledge, attitudes and practices when it comes to sexual consent. A more long-term, evidence-based and whole-of-community approach is required in universities.

Importantly, by the time young people get to university, it’s far too late to be initiating education on sexual consent.

Universities do have a role to play in reinforcing important messages about sexual consent and in ensuring they’re part of a broader community that encourages ethical and respectful practices. But education on sexual consent and ethics must start at a much younger age. It should be treated as a lifelong learning endeavour if we hope to generate meaningful change.

Authors: Bianca Fileborn, Lecturer in Criminology, UNSW

Read more

Australia Today

the carbon tax that would leave households better off

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

The UNSW climate dividend proposal will be launched on Wednesday by the Member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps. ShutterstockToday, as part of the UNSW Grand Challenge on Inequality, we release a study entitled A Climate Dividend for Australians that offers a practical solution to the twin problems of cl...

Read more

If you're feeding with formula, here's what you can do to promote your baby's healthy growth

Rachel Laws, Senior Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Deakin University

If a baby isn’t breastfed, or is partially breastfed, commercial infant formula should be the only other food given until around six months, and should be continued alongside solid foods until 12 months.ShutterstockWhile breastfeeding is the recommended approach to infant feeding, some mothers...

Read more

Why adult video stars rely on camming

Sophie Pezzutto, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, Australian National University

Trans porn star Korra Del Rio camming from her room in Las VegasSophie PezzuttoWith pirated and amateur pornography widely available online, porn no longer provides a steady income for many working in the adult industry. During my research interviewing transgender porn stars in Las Vegas, the overwh...

Read more

How much will voters pay for an early Christmas? Eight charts that explain Victoria’s transport election

Marion Terrill, Transport Program Director, Grattan Institute

The most magical time of the year is upon Victorians: election season. The (taxpayer-funded) gifts promised by the major parties far exceed anything Santa could bring. And the multi-billion-dollar toys on everybody’s wish list? Trains, tracks and roads.There’s nothing unusual about polit...

Read more

Holidays & Travel

Adhari Park: Why is it one of the must-visit sites in Bahrain?

Despite its small area that does not exceed the 1,000 square kilometers mark, the Kingdom of Bahrain is known for being rich of touristic sites and attractions. Bahrain comprises destinations...

Exciting Off Road Adventures In Western Australia

Western Australia has long been a top destination for off roading enthusiasts from all across the world. One look at some of the top off road destinations on offer in...

Things to Do and See in Ballina, Australia

The intricate coastline of New South Wales is renowned for its sumptuous, decadent beaches, hidden resorts and secret camping spots. A long and slow ride down the winding highway that...

Guide to Travel Necessities for 2018

Sure, it sounds like quite an adventure to hit an open road with nothing but a one-way ticket and an open mind, but the harsh reality is – you won’t...

Top Sightseeing Spots in New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the most fascinating locations for anyone to visit in the world. After all, it’s a place with a variety of unique landscapes, but it isn’t...

Must-Pack Items for a Travel Blogging Boss

As a travel blogger, you get to see and explore so many wonderful destinations and meet various interesting people, but before you embark on a new adventure you need to...

Luxury Camping Adventures Around the World

Perhaps in direct response to the dominance of technology in the modern world, many travelers are feeling a strong draw towards nature. While some are able to fully embrace their...

Dredging works underway Plantation Island

Tourists and workers travelling to popular tourist destination Plantation Island, Fiji, are set to benefit from safer access when marine channel dredging is completed at the end of June 2018...

Top 5 Tips for Traveling With Dogs

Travelling with your dog can be thrilling, but sometimes it can turn into a real nuisance. Unless you know how to properly restrain the pooch, whether it’ll be able to...

Fashion & Beauty

Summertime skin

Summertime skin: the water based and nutrient-rich after sun gel-cream providing more antioxidant support than your traditional aloe While summer might mean spending days on end lapping up the glorious sunshine...

Groom To Do List

Sorry Aussie Men, you no longer just pay for the alcohol, flowers and marriage license. Times have certainly changed. Wedding Expert shares what Australian Grooms are now expected to do before...

Simple Secrets To A More Confident Smile

We all know just how important first impressions are. After a handshake, what’s one of the first things people will notice about you? It’s your smile. A friendly smile is...

Improve Your Body Confidence and Feel Great

No matter how good you feel about yourself, sometimes you just can’t help but see a few little flaws that seem gigantic to you and make you feel self-conscious. Whether...

First-Timer Tips For Your First Lip Filler Appointment

Getting injectable lip fillers can be a quick and effective way to plump up your smile with minimal drama. They’re a cost-effective and safe way to boost the natural shape...

The Most Common Skin Conditions and How to Deal with Them

We often underestimate the importance of our skin, but as the largest organ in our body, and our primary layer of defense, it is constantly affected by many environmental factors...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

Click Frenzy's Ironshopper winner More People Want a Sparkling Smile for the Festive SeasonUBank Increases Term Deposit Rates: What That Means for Aussie Savers?Bosses Must Address Their Mental Health for Personal and Business Success4 Things to Expect During Your Trichology ConsultationHappy Adoption: Frequently Asked Questions about Adopting6 Ways You Can Help Others that Will Advance Your CareerTop 6 Stylish Loft Conversions That Will Transform Your AtticThree Reasons Your Home Needs OneRose Smith Absolute Soul Secrets Top Foods That Boost Your Eye HealthFacts about Bruxism You Should KnowThe Most Stressful Life Events and How to Deal with ThemAU’s Most Challenging Hiking Trails5 Tips to Properly Plumb Your Vehicle