Louise Nicholas: We need to educate our kids about consent

According to the survery 15 per cent of secondary students report they were subject to an unwanted sexual experience. Photo / File
According to the survery 15 per cent of secondary students report they were subject to an unwanted sexual experience. Photo / File

More than one in 10 high school students say they have been the victim of unwanted sexual activity by their boyfriend or girlfriend - and that's not acceptable, says victim advocate Louise Nicholas.

A nationwide survey has found that 15 per cent of secondary students report they were subject to an unwanted sexual experience, with more than half saying it happened when they were aged 14 or under.

The findings come from the just published University of Auckland report into Sexual and reproductive health and sexual violence among New Zealand secondary school students.

Girls were more than twice as likely to report unwanted sexual contact as boys.
In most instances the one forcing the young person into the situation was a boyfriend, girlfriend or friend.

Rape survivor Nicholas isn't surprised by the report's findings and calls for more urgency to do something about it.

She said any kind of sexual abuse can be devastating.

"For your kids that experience means low self esteem, it withdraws them from their friends and peers and it's the mental unwellness where they're unable to cope with suicidal thoughts like 'I've got no one to talk to'."

The report states that youth who experienced unwanted sexual contact had poorer outcomes compared to those who have not had such an experience. This included poorer mental health, poorer sexual and reproductive health, higher rates of substance use, poorer family relationships, not feeling safe at school, needing professional help for emotional problems, having limited access to the health care that they needed, living in overcrowded homes and moving house more frequently.

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said consent is a big issue which needs to be 'drummed home', particularly for boys. Photo / Stephen Parker.
John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said consent is a big issue which needs to be 'drummed home', particularly for boys. Photo / Stephen Parker.

John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said consent is a big issue which needs to be "drummed home", particularly for boys. But the high levels of porn they watch is destroying their ability to form healthy relationships.

"More children than we know are exposed to pornography, particularly at a younger age.
"In that porn there's a high level of violence and objectification of women and young impressionable children grow up watching that, thinking that's okay and consent doesn't matter.

"What would be really helpful is some role modelling by some of our sports stars.

"What the Chiefs did is not helpful at all with the stripper. I think it's time rugby managers kick that sort of behaviour."

Walsh, who is the former president of the Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand, said there's a growing trend of youth who record each other doing inappropriate sexual acts with drunk girls. Teachers only learn about it when the video is circulated at school, said Walsh.

"A group, often of young boys, think recording inappropriate sexual encounters with girls when they're strongly inebriated is like a game or trophy. It's wrong."

Nicholas said one way to combat sexual abuse would be to enforce education on consent and respectful sexual relationships in the New Zealand curriculum.

"This needs to be nationwide. It needs to be in every single high school and intermediate.
"It's about educating our kids on how to keep them safe, what's okay what's not, and consent."

Nicholas finds many parents don't know how to broach the sex talk with their kids. She recommended weaving ideas on healthy sexual relationships and consent into everyday life.

"Parents don't need to be embarrassed about this. Ask your children about, 'How can I have a conversation with you. I just want to keep you safe'.

"When something comes on the news or TV start the conversation then. Talk about sexual abuse cases."

Victim advocate Louise Nicholas finds many parents don't know how to broach the sex talk with their kids. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Victim advocate Louise Nicholas finds many parents don't know how to broach the sex talk with their kids. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The report examined data from Youth '12, the third national health and wellbeing survey of 8500 secondary school students in New Zealand. The 2012 study focused on reporting sexual violence experiences and the sexual and reproductive health of students in secondary schools.

The study found that students were more than eight times more likely to report unwanted sexual contact instigated by someone they knew than a stranger.

Nearly three-quarters of males and just over half of the females had kept details of an unwanted sexual encounter secret. Those who did say something most commonly told a friend.

"This level of unwanted sexual contact is unacceptably high," said the university's Adolescent Health Research Group lead researcher Dr Terryann Clark.

"It is unacceptable that young people still fear judgments and blame - to be seen as 'asking for it', and a whole host of unwanted assumptions that pervade the current rape culture. It is no wonder they don't tell and get the support they need."

A small proportion of students - mainly boys - said they forced someone to do sexual things that they did not want to do.

Between 2001 and 2012, the proportion of young people who reported forcing someone to do sexual things decreased from six per cent to three per cent.

Clark said it was important to address issues including a culture of shame to bring about change.

"We need to ensure that we have a non-blaming social context that believes and acts when children and young people tell about their experiences of unwanted sexual contact."

Other changes needed to keep our youngest safe included safe communities and schools, quality housing, sound public health policies and whanau support.

- NZ Herald

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