SCHOOL and youth leaders in Bendigo are backing the state government's decision to make consent education mandatory in public schools from next term.
For Bendigo Senior Secondary College student Ciaran Noble, it was an important step in the right direction for young people.
"I think having these classes is extremely important, especially for people my age that are maturing," he said.
"Consent is something that was only really touched on in my younger years of schooling but it wasn't specifically focused on and it is really great that we are now speaking openly about this."
Ciaran said it was positive to speak openly about consent.
"There is a bit of stigma around these topics and we don't talk about it as much as we should," he said.
"I know my family is pretty open but some families might not be talking about these issues and some kids might have parents that are uncomfortable talking about the topic or don't know how to talk about it in the right way.
"So I think it's incredibly important to speak about it at school."
Acting Premier James Merlino announced this week that teaching consent would be compulsory in all government schools from next month under an expansion of the Respectful Relationships program.
The initiative previously did not explicitly direct schools to teach consent and instead focused on relationships, sexuality and safety.
Under the plan, teachers will be given access to extra resources, guidance and professional development to help ready them to appropriately teach the sensitive topic.
Bendigo Senior Secondary College principal Dale Pearce said although his school already taught the Respectful Relationships program, it was important to focus on consent.
He said it was important for discussion to not be limited to the classroom and said they should be taking place in conjunction with families, sporting clubs and community organisations.
"I think it is terribly important to have a variety of settings for these conversations because different children will listen to different people, and will pick up the cues and messages," he said.
"If you have schools' teaching children about respectful relationships and that's not supported at home or undermined through a particular community group or some other social setting then it becomes difficult.
"Everyone needs to be working together and the messages need to be really consistent, we all have a responsibility to be teaching this."
Mr Pearce said the school ran a number of sessions over the past week around pornography, sex and consent.
He said Monday's session reminded students that consent was much more than the act of saying 'yes'.
"Our students were fantastic during those sessions and we also ran a session last week on the bystander effect, and how young people would react in social situations where they see something happening that is inappropriate," Mr Pearce said.
"We are trying to support them not to just standby but do something positive and we also ran a session last week for parents on the same topic.
"We are taking a broad approach and we are doing things progressively over time and we are getting a really positive response."
Year 11 student Ciaran said it was great to learn about the importance of non-verbal cues and body language in difficult situations.
"The session made us realise that this is a serious topic and bringing the whole school in there made it a focus that we could all speak about," he said.
Speaking at the March 4 Justice on Monday, Loddon Campaspe Centre Against Sexual Assault chief executive Kate Wright said it was vital to have programs that embedded gender equality training, awareness, and information from very early in families' lives, to make long-term change.
"Consent in high school is too late," she said.
"We need to actually be bringing up our children, and talking in our communities, and having conversations about power, and power structures, and how decisions are made for the benefit of all."
Bendigo Youth Council deputy mayor Ryan Peterson welcomed the announcement but hoped it would spark a change.
He said discussions around consent and what constitutes healthy interactions between young people was more topical than ever.
"It is really important to have these classes because it is a massive area that hasn't been really looked at in an educational sense in schools until now," he said.
"We need to teach from pretty early on to know especially what is right, and what is wrong and to make sure that once young people are entering relationships or things of that nature that they are asking "is this okay?" and making sure they get that yes or no.
"As for all social change, issues like these reach a boiling point and with everything we have seen over the past fortnight, this is a massive step forward."
Mr Peterson said it was also important for these programs to include and cover those who were LGBTIQ+.
"I think it's important that programs like this that teach around consent, it's important to get the broad spectrum of sexualities into that as well," he said.
"So many sexual health and sexual education relationship information really fail the LGBQI+ contingent and I think that is real shame and if we can get that on the ground from the beginning and educating form that area as well would be awesome."
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