The steps that must be taken to curb ‘rape culture’ in our society
It’s not as though we don’t know the definition of the word – to give permission or agree to do something. It doesn’t always need to be articulated to be conveyed. It can be interpreted through a shift in someone’s mood, through a change in their behaviour. And it most certainly isn’t given if someone is rendered unconscious at a party.
Yet that’s what happened to Carola Dixon at just 15 years of age. Back then, Carola was at a teenage party with friends, when a boy, then a trusted friend, encouraged the consumption of alcohol. It led to Carola drinking too much and passing out. Carola’s friends discovered the then teenager in a bedroom, the young boy zipping up his pants.
23-year-old Chanel Contos is campaigning for better
education around consent for young people. (60 Minutes)
One of those friends was Chanel Contos, who remembers that night vividly. Chanel believes no one in the room understood that Carola had been sexually assaulted. Not her, not Carola, the boy, nor anyone at the party.
This seemed incredible to me – it seemed obvious that if someone was unconscious, they couldn’t possibly be a party to consent.
But Carola said, back then, no one understood that was what rape could look like.
“I thought that being raped meant that somebody comes and forces you to do this thing and afterwards you’re sort of bleeding and you’re covered in bruises and you have to call police and it’s in a dark alleyway,” she said.
Carola said, back then, no one understood that was
what rape could look like. (60 Minutes)
“I didn’t know that rape could happen to me in an environment with someone that I knew. I thought I had to be screaming and crying saying, ‘no, no, stop
Now 23, both Carola and Chanel want society to shift its thinking about consent and to respect boundaries. And to understand that it’s about more than just saying “no”.
“We need to change it from ‘no means no’, to ‘only yes means yes’. We need enthusiastic consent to be the norm.”
Chanel didn’t realise how widespread the issue of sexual abuse among Australian teens was, until she started a social media poll that went viral. She then launched a website, where she received thousands of testimonies from teens with similar traumatic experiences.
Chanel didn’t realise how widespread the issue of sexual abuse among
Australian teens was, until she started a social media poll that went viral. (60 Minutes)
Her reach has been remarkable – and people in power have started to take notice. Just after we interviewed Chanel for our story, she had a video call with Stacey Maloney, the Commander of the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad for New South Wales police.
Chanel’s website prompted Commander Maloney to launch Operation Vest, which allows survivors of sexual assault to make complaints without instigating a criminal investigation. It means the assault is on the record, and police are able to identify repeat offenders.
Since it launched in February this year, Commander Maloney said there’d been a 54 per cent rise in sexual abuse offending – a significant increase.
It tells Chanel that people are listening – but she wants more.
Since it launched in February this year, Commander Maloney said there’d
been a 54 percent rise in sexual abuse offending – a significant increase. (60 Minutes)
“I think anyone that denies they’ve contributed to rape culture – that’s me included, that’s girls included, parents, teachers included, men and boys included – they’re part of the problem. So we’re at a point in society where we get to choose to actively dispute the cultural norms.”
Mason Black is adding his voice to the chorus calling out bad behaviour.
The school captain of the prestigious Brisbane Boys College used a school address to advocate for the cause – one that is close to his heart.
His passionate speech urged the 700 boys listening, to “stop being boys, be human” and you could’ve heard a pin drop in that auditorium.
Mason Black is adding his voice to the chorus calling out bad behaviour. (60 Minutes)
“If you have ever objectified a woman based on her looks, talked about females in a misogynistic way or taken advantage without consent, you are part of the problem,” he said.
Only a few months earlier, Mason had learned a horrible truth about his mum, Michelle. She had been sexually abused when she was young – something she didn’t speak about for decades.
“It never leaves you,” she told us.
“I just wish I was able to talk about it then, not 40 years later.”
Watching Michelle and Mason was truly moving. They have such a strong mother-son bond, one that’s only grown stronger as Mason learned about what happened to her and shared her story. It brought about a certain maturity in Mason – suddenly the issue of consent and sexual abuse was personal.
It wasn’t just something he read about online or in the papers. It had happened to his own mother, prompting him to implore his fellow students to wake up and address lewd behaviour if they saw it.
Michelle and Mason have such a strong mother-son bond, one that’s only
grown stronger as Mason learned about what happened to her and shared her story (60 Minutes)
“When I found out about mum, it’s heartbreaking. And that’s the worst conversation to ever have. It’s terrible to think about, really, that my mum was put in that position. But for her to have such courage and to give me permission to share her story, I hope that it helps other girls speak up as well and share theirs,” Mason said.
Chanel, Mason, and thousands like them, want to ensure these horror stories are never repeated. For that to happen, we all need to start having conversations. At home, at school, among our friends. It starts with us, it’s as simple as that. And it has to start young.
In the Netherlands, a program called ‘Spring Fever’ starts educating kids about respect, relationships, sexuality and consent, from the age of four. Yes, four. It sounds young, but the program is designed to be age-appropriate, so that the education taught each year makes sense to those receiving the lessons.
Chanel, Mason, and thousands like them, want to ensure these horror stories are never repeated. (60 Minutes)
For example, at the age of four, kids are taught that their body is their body, and they can say no if they feel uncomfortable greeting someone, or embracing someone. It’s simplified so they’re able to relate to it.
Then, slowly, as they age, anatomy is introduced, the ‘birds and the bees’ if you like, but also the function of a healthy, respectful relationship, where consent is understood and listened to.
There’s so much awkwardness when it comes to talking about sex in Australia. There are many who see it as ‘too hard’ or perhaps that talking about it will lead teenagers into sexual activity sooner. But the research out of the Netherlands proves it doesn’t – that in fact about 50 percent of Dutch teens are likely to have intercourse for the first time, at age 18.
Their rates of STIs and teen pregnancy have dropped too, in recent years.
Now 23, both Carola and Chanel want society to shift its thinking about consent and to respect boundaries. (60 Minutes)
Listening to the teens we interviewed for this story, it’s clear something needs to change. They still aren’t receiving comprehensive sex education lessons. Navigating the world of relationships and sexuality can be confusing at the best of times, not least when you’re going through puberty too.
So perhaps the way to prevent a so-called ‘rape culture’ in a society seemingly confused about consent, is educating students earlier.
But not through complicated and nonsensical government videos involving milkshakes and tacos – perhaps education needs to start at home too.
If this story has raised issues and you would like to speak with someone, there is help available by calling 1800 RESPECT ON 1800 737 732.