31 Oct 2014

Consent to be part of sex education

10:04 am on 31 October 2014

Secondary schools could soon be holding classes on the issue of sexual consent following the police decision not to lay charges after a year-long investigation into an Auckland teenage sex ring.

The Ministry of Education is updating its sexual education guidelines, which will include issues of consent, coercion, and safety in intimate relationships.

It says how they are taught is up to each individual school.

"Schools have a great deal of flexibility in how they deliver the curriculum but it should always be done in consultation with the parent community," deputy secretary for student achievement, Graham Stoop, said in a statement.

In their report on the investigation into the group of youths who called themselves Roastbusters and boasted online about getting girls drunk and having sex with them, police said the prevalence of alcohol in the teenagers' lives was concerning and there was a poor understanding of what constituted consent.

Acting Deputy Commissioner Grant Nicholls and Detective Inspector Karyn Malthus at a press conference on the so-called Roastbusters group.

Acting Deputy Commissioner Grant Nicholls and Detective Inspector Karyn Malthus at a press conference on the so-called Roastbusters group. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker-Wilson

Wellington teenager Marina Mersi made a school documentary about consent, exploring what her friends and schoolmates understood about it.

She said she found herself having to educate people about it.

"Afterwards we talked to them, and told them what consent was and all the laws around it. They were very interested. Our generation is not [as well] aware of consent as we could be.

"So I think that if school begins the discussion surrounding sexual consent, at least then people will be interested enough to go out and get information on their own."

Clincal manager of Auckland's Sexual Abuse HELP Foundation, Kathryn McPhillips said the legal definition of what consent was confusing, and should change.

"[The] reasonable belief defence says that if you have a reasonable belief in consent, then you have not committed a sexual violation crime.

"So you end up with these two very different messages, where a girl thinks that she needs to have said yes to have given consent, and where a guy might go 'well, she didn't say no, and she looked like she wanted it, so yeah I thought she did'.

"That lack of clarity, and those two different positions, is problematic."

Kathryn McPhillips said bringing a positive definition to consent, as opposed to current law that instead says what consent is not, would help clarify things.

The HELP Foundation says while education is essential, it doesn't fully address the systemic social and legal issues which create an environment in which these acts can be committed.

Protesters marched up Queen Street in Auckland.

The so-called Roastbusters case sparked marches in several cities last year. Photo: RNZ

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