To coincide with World Sexual Health Day, Liv McClymont’s 13-minute doco I Stand For Consent is being released online today to view for free, based on a survey about schoolgirls’ experiences of sexual harassment. Sarah Lang reports.
Trigger warning: contains mentions of sexual assault
Who knew that today is World Sexual Health Day, run by the World Health Organization (WHO)? I didn’t, until a few days ago.
No, World Sexual Health Day isn’t just about avoiding STIs and unwanted pregnancies. According to WHO, “sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity”. We agree!
In 2022, the annual awareness day’s theme was “Let’s talk pleasure”. This year’s theme is “Consent”. If you want to read about what is and isn’t consent, please see my previous story.
Now, brace yourself for some stats. According to New Zealand sexual-harm prevention and education agencies, one in four New Zealanders will experience sexual assault – and, particularly upsettingly, 70% of sexual assaults that are reported occur to those aged 17 and under.
Last year, a group of Avonside Girls’ students felt so concerned about sexual harassment – which was largely taking place outside school, including online – that they approached the school with a list of requests for actions that might help address students’ experiences of sexual harm. One request was a survey (based on one done at Christchurch Girls’ High School) to prove there was an issue. The Avonside students and education researcher Liz Gordon ran the survey together.
Seventy-two percent of Avonside students completed the survey: in the school theatre, surrounded by Milo, cookies, counsellors, police, iwi representatives and other community support. Of the participants, 68% reported having experienced sexual harassment. 379 students had, between them, experienced 2650 incidents of harassment. Three out of every four victims experienced this outside school. On average, participants had been harassed 10 times. Rating girls based on their looks, body shaming, cat-calling and sexual taunts were the most common methods of in-person harassment. Brace yourself again: 21 students said they’d been raped or nearly raped.
Liz Gordon also oversaw a survey at Shirley Boys’ High School, which is located on the same site as Avonside. While participation in this survey was lower than that of Avonside Girls’, and the results perhaps less reliable, 19% of participants had experienced a form of sexual harassment within the previous year – and the report on the survey noted an “anti-gay culture”.
Calling for change
Auckland-based filmmaker Liv McClymont, 29, is a sexual-assault survivor, and an advocate for prevention and education about consent and sexual harm. She’s also an alumna of Avonside Girls’. When she heard about the two surveys, she read the reports. “Reading them was gut-wrenching,” Liv tells Capsule. “Devastating, alarming, heartbreaking, but not necessarily surprising.” It felt like things hadn’t changed much since she was at school.
Liv decided to make the short doco I Stand For Consent, interviewing Avonside student Aurora Garner-Randolph (who, with her friends, raised the issue), the two schools’ principals, and a sexual-harm academic, among others. In the film, which Liv wrote and directed, she reads from the Avonside survey, crying at this part: “‘I was at my birthday party and I was only 14 and my boyfriend raped me’. They [the girl] felt it must have been their fault.”
No one’s demonising the school. Avonside Girls’ teaches Year 9 and 10 students about consent as part of its relationship and sexuality curriculum, but now knows its students want more education on consent. Dr Melanie Beres, a University of Otago Associate Professor in Sociology who has expertise in sexual-violence prevention, tells Liv that “I have no reason to believe that anything going on at Avonside is anywhere different from anywhere else”. Liv points out that both schools were “really brave, willing to face this issue” and are taking steps to address the problem.
“These students bravely shared their experiences in the name of change,” Liv says. “Now are we finally going to do something about it?” Because we’re simply not doing enough. Currently, sexuality education guidelines are provided for Years 9 and 10, and education about consent is advised in these guidelines – but it’s not compulsory and how it’s delivered (if it’s delivered at all) is up to each school. This year, education about consent became a compulsory part of Australia’s school curriculum. Why aren’t we following their lead?
Taking A Stand
Liv, alongside some passionate young people, spearheaded the social-media campaign #IStandForConsent (instagram.com/explore/tags/istandforconsent) and TikTok (tiktok.com/tag/istandforconsent), which ran the #IStandForConsent Challenge in April. People filmed themselves saying ‘I stand for consent’ then stated their ‘because’.
This campaign was in partnership with Let’s Talk Consent (#letstalkconsentnz): a social enterprise (run by University of Auckland students Jasmine Gray and Laura Porteous, and graduate Genna Hawkins-Boulton) that advocates for change, including calling for compulsory consent education in NZ schools.
The doco shows Liv writing an email about #IStandForConsent. “Dear policymakers,” she writes, “here are your people, students, educators, survivors, advocates, parents, children. We’re asking you to stand with us and make consent education compulsory in Aotearoa because our rangatahi deserve to be free from sexual harm… We stand for consent because we’re failing our youth if we don’t.”
#IStandForConsent got a response from Education Minister Jan Tinetti, who, Liv says, “was a bit vague about generally supporting more education on this for students”. They got “a more powerful reply” from Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, who said she supports compulsory education about consent in schools. “The Greens are the only party with a policy on compulsory consent education,” Liv says. Meanwhile, National Party deputy leader Nicola Willis recently said that sex education for her children was a job for her and her husband, not schools.
Liv has thoughts on this. “Parents don’t always have the skills and tools to do this – and the majority of sexual harm happens at home or close to home, so school can be a safe space in that way.”
Really, compulsory consent education is a no-brainer.
Watch the doco for free on YouTube (youtu.be/K46djPBIYwA), Facebook, Instagram, or the RNZ website, searching ‘I Stand For Consent’. Or follow @cablemaiden, @livfilms_ and @outlookforsomeday on Instagram for links and updates. I Stand For Consent was commissioned through Someday Stories, an annual collection of six social- and sustainability-focused short films made by emerging Aotearoa filmmakers
•If you’ve experienced sexual harm or assault, please call the confidential helpline Safe to Talk: 0800 044 334 or text 4334.