A federal government online resource that teaches students about sexual consent remains littered with “harmful and contradictory” advice, women’s safety advocates say, despite the removal of a controversial video that used milkshakes to explain consent.
The milkshake video – in which a young woman smears a milkshake over her partner’s face without his permission – was one of two videos designed to explain consent that were pulled from The Good Society website earlier this year.
The suite of videos, digital stories, podcasts and other materials on The Good Society website form part of the government’s $7.8 million Respect Matters program.
The resource faced backlash from rape prevention advocates, women’s rights groups and politicians for its simplistic and often confusing messaging around sex and consent.
Women’s safety advocacy groups are urging the Department of Education to urgently remove harmful content that remains on the website, including material that suggests eye contact, “smiling with the eyes” and laughing can convey consent.
Fair Agenda and End Rape on Campus Australia also point to contradictory statements about non-verbal communication, in which it is suggested that “looking away” or “going still” indicate a “hard no” – only to suggest later that “stillness” or “looking away” indicate uncertainty.
“The suggestion that stillness and looking away should be seen as anything other than a no; or that smiling or laughing should be seen as a yes are horrifying,” the organisations said in a joint letter.
“The suggestion that these actions could be seen or justified as amounting to consent is incredibly distressing and traumatising.”
“Think of how many young women laugh and smile to try and navigate unsafe situations or inappropriate behaviour.”
The groups also point to confusing or concerning statements on the site such as: “we need to avoid pressure and coercion, though respectful persuasion can be okay” and, “If a yes is not enthusiastic then it’s a maybe, even a no”.
The organisations said the website as it stood was promoting harmful content, and urged the government to take the entire site down while it’s reviewed by experts in violence prevention and sexual education.
“Every single piece of content the government is putting in front of young people on this issue should be signed off by experts who actually understand the drivers of sexual violence, and the need for a trauma-informed approach for the students in these classrooms who have already been sexually assaulted.”
The Department of Education on Thursday said beyond the removal of the two controversial videos from the site, it has only sought the adjustment of some wording on the site.
Officials told a Senate estimates hearing that there were “a number of people who have reviewed the website”, and there would be another review.
“If there is one lesson that we have learned is to listen to the voice of experts and that’s exactly what we’re going to do through this process of expanding the reference group, as well as getting expertise on family and domestic violence,” the department official said.