Thanks to my good friend Chris Croft for this gem. Chris and I met through our wives, who have been pen friends since they were at high school!
Thanks to my good friend Chris Croft for this gem. Chris and I met through our wives, who have been pen friends since they were at high school!
Over the past few years it has become increasingly clear to me that the role of being leader of the boarding community, or even a staff member in a boarding house, is becoming more and more immense and this has never been more obvious than during 2020 and 2021 with the added pressures of dealing with the impacts of Covid-19 in boarding houses.
Juggling sudden lockdown, border closures, detailed and challenging regulations written by bureaucrats who have never been in a boarding house, anxious parents and students, vaccination and on-line learning have all impacted on the role a great deal. And guess who is usually pushed to the side - YOU! So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to help you think about a re-set - a chance to look at what you can do for yourself so that you can continue with the huge role of looking after your boarders.
I know many people find it difficult to make time to read, but I can’t encourage you enough to set aside the time to get lost in a book. Many years ago I undertook the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, course, and habit number seven, Sharpen the Saw, included one of my great loves - reading. However, Stephen Covey talks of only reading non-fiction books which will improve your knowledge, and I can’t object enough to this. Certainly, reading non-fiction is great - my last two non-fiction books were Norman Swan’s new book ‘So You Think You Know What’s Good For You’ and Chris Thurber’s new book ‘The Unlikely Art of Parental Pressure’ (and I’d recommend them both to you). However, it is with fiction that you can get lost and enjoy stretching your imagination. Reading books like ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ and ‘All The Shimmering Skies” both by Trent Dalton, ‘The Dry’ and ‘The Survivors’ by Jane Harper, and ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’ by Pip Williams (can you tell I love Australian authors!) and ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens (one of my all time favourites) just to name a few. Finding time every day to get lost in words is good for the brain, and for the body - so try it!
So many boarding staff forget the role exercise plays in a healthy life. We are often so busy looking after other people we forget to look after ourselves, and this was never more evident to me than over the last two years here in the ABSA office. So I took the time to do two things - firstly I left my car at work and walked to and from home - a distance of between 2.5km and 3.5km depending on which path, and have discovered the delight of time to myself with no-one interrupting. It gives me time to plan the day, to let go of the tough issues, and above all, to think about the things I love. I have discovered how beautiful the sunset can be, how amazing it is to watch the full moon rise, how very few days it actually rains fi rst and last thing of the day (I have only been caught twice). Try to find time to walk - it is good for the heart and good for the mind. Secondly, we have brought in a Personal Trainer two afternoons a week (and yes, I walk home after the session too). Mat is one of my ex-students, is qualified and enjoys hearing us complain about how sore he made us from the last session. Yes, sometimes I go back to my desk afterwards to finish off what didn’t get done before he arrived, but most often I have enjoyed the full-bore way to end a day.
I must admit that pre-Covid I had never listened to a podcast, even though my two sons kept telling me about great things to listen to. Therefore, I decided to use the time walking to listen to things for me, speakers who would improve my life in some sort of way. I have laughed and cried through some of the interviews on ‘The Howie Games’ (his recent chat with Andrew Gaze post the Olympics is priceless) and have loved improving my basketball and business knowledge on ‘The Old Man and the Three’ by JJ Reddick with interviews of many NBA players as well as hearing from Bob Iger the Executive Chairmen of the Walt Disney Company - as an example. I am hoping many of you subscribe to ‘On Duty’ and ‘Study Time’, the ABSA podcasts (I won’t mention my favourite interviews, but wow - they have been fun to listen to). So find your thing in podcast world - my wife Karen enjoys ‘Conversations’ by Richard Fidler, there is a great one called ‘You’re Wrong About’ - you name it, there is a podcast for every interest.
These are just three ways I have discovered to ‘Look After Myself’. What can you do for yourself? The first step is to try something, and make time for it - I challenge you to, as you will find you do an even better job of looking after your boarders once you look after yourself.
The last twelve months have given everyone a chance to ponder - to ponder the landscape of boarding staff in Australia, to ponder how we might all do a better job of looking after our boarders, to ponder just how demanding the Head of Boarding position really is, to ponder what support we need to do our job to the best of our ability, and to ponder what our vision is overall.
At ABSA we have been doing the same - we have looked carefully at how we were doing things, and worked hard to find better ways. We have used our Strategic Plan to focus on the key visions of our members, and looked at how we might fulfil the key areas of this plan before it is re-envisaged for the next three years. We have worked to plug holes, to expand horizons and provide better data for schools. And I’ve even started my Masters’ in Residential Education - and will be researching how sustainable the Head of Boarding Role actually is in today’s boarding schools.
But where is this leading?
My greatest concern in our boarding schools at present is complacency - and I’m not talking about how we deal with the Covid epidemic. What we at ABSA have discovered is how important our role is to provide targeted, specific boarding staff training. So many people have been reaching out for it. So many people have been keen to give us ideas for topics. So many people have registered for something we have run.
However, so many haven’t. We have heard comments such as “we don’t have time”, “our staff aren’t interested” or even “as a teacher I already have to do lots of PD”.
I must admit I believe this is a cop out. Getting suitable Professional Learning opportunities for my own boarding staff over 30 years of running boarding houses was close to impossible - so I did it myself. I made sure every member of staff, from uni students who were paid in ‘board and keep’ to Heads of House with many years of experience, we all approached the idea of getting better at our boarding duties with a passion. Whilst a number of us enjoyed many PD activities as teachers, only a few really translated easily into our boarding work. However, almost all of the boarding learning opportunities translated really well into our teaching - especially those around developing positive relationships.
So where is my rant going?
I believe every boarding house in Australia has a key responsibility - to provide at least 15 hours of professional learning opportunities for every staff member working there every year. Of course some of this will be Government regulated and critically important Child Protection training, updating to CPR or First Aid training and the like. But some of it needs to be specifically about boarding - how to be better at the important role we play looking after the teenagers in our care. Some of our Boarding Schools are already doing this really well - and that is just awesome. But to be honest, many aren’t. Those boarding leaders make excuses and don’t end up leading their boarding staff to be future focused and the best they can be. They take the easy way out. They get so bogged down with managing their boarding house that they forget the important role they have as a leader - to move their boarding house forward, to improve their staff and to develop their boarding program to best face the 21st Century.
Where does ABSA fit in?
Firstly, we don’t profess to offer everything for every person. There are lots of good things available all over the country. But we do profess to offer affordable, easy to access, high quality training which any level of staff could relate to. The online Active Duty course is available free to anyone and only takes around 40 minutes to complete - I struggle to see why every single boarding staff member in this region of the world has not completed it. The webinars are targeted at different boarding roles, but over the year everyone will get plenty of chances to watch and learn and get better at their role. The certificate courses help everyone to ‘deep dive’ into a topic which is relevant to their work. And those of us undertaking the Masters in Residential Education through Buckingham University - we are well on the way to our research projects.
Please don’t be shy. Reach out if you have a topic you want us to look into. Reach out if you think we are heading in the wrong direction. Reach out if you want something researched. And reach out if you need help in accessing the PD - we are here to help.
So we don’t know it all - in fact there is so much to learn. How can the boarding leaders in Australia play a critical part in continuing to make this country the best in the world when it comes to boarding practice? We can make sure our staff continue to develop, to learn, and above all to really do well at looking after those wonderful teenagers in our communities.
I am writing this at the end of National Boarding Week, a week which saw so many of our boarding schools celebrate the fact that they have boarders. Too often in the busy-ness of life at school the little things get missed - the girls enjoying the chance to cook together on a Sunday afternoon, the boys helping each other with their assignment work, the boarders getting in and assisting with school events - the list is endless. But this week has given us the chance to highlight those things which make our boarding communities special. Special assemblies which mentioned the challenges many of our rural and remote boarders face at home, videos produced which have allowed our boarders to talk about what boarding means to them, photos of the community having fun together and above all the chance to remind all students in our schools that there is a boarding house (or more than one) on campus, and that it’s a fun place to live. It was great to watch boarding school celebrate the work of their boarding staff - special cupcakes, flowers, cards of thanks from the boarders and special words from the Principals to name a few.
ABSA proudly produced the first of a series of videos. Entitled ‘Why Boarding?’ this video, which is available for all member schools to use, is aimed toward parents and those interested in what boarding schools are all about.
However, there is an underlying theme in the video which is important to remember. It highlights how important it is for all schools to be at the highest standard. It is easy for those leading our boarding schools, and staff working in them, to be satisfied with what they are doing, and have been doing for a number of years. It is easy to be satisfied that they meet the minimum standard required by different State Governments, even though these are not at the same level as the National Minimum Standard. It is easy to be satisfied with staff who are undertrained, or haven’t undergone any specific boarding training for some time, or at all. These are the boarding houses which put us all at risk. I still hear stories of where young staff let the older boys bully the younger boys and turn a blind eye (yes, this was reported to me this year!), where staff are content that their Duty of Care training completed in 2011 means they know what is expected of them in 2021, where staff are rostered on long duties covering the whole weekend without any breaks or support, where schools will not spend money to help improve their boarding school by introducing Boarding School Management software or improve their staff by encouraging them to undertake the free online training offered and where those who are teachers and work in boarding believe they don’t need to undertake any boarding training as they already do enough Professional Learning.
So what can schools do to really celebrate boarding? We can ensure our boarders get the best support from their well-trained staff, we can spend time talking with our boarders about current issues such as consent, pornography, social media and bullying, and why it is important for them to develop a balanced, well-rounded view on this rather than just leaving it for the day school to handle. We can make our boarders feel special by actually listening to what they are saying and reading their body language, we can ensure all our boarding staff understand that they hold an incredibly important position, one which is professional in its own right.
Thanks for all that you are doing to make events such as National Boarding Week so special - keep up the good work!
I was privileged to attend the 2021 Northern Territory Isolated Children's Parents' Association State Conference recently, and the opening piece was such a great reminder fo the challenges these wonderful families face. Read on and enjoy.
Welcome to the 2021 ICPA NT State Conference. It is a great honour to be the first to speak at the Conference, and set the scene for the theme – ‘No Barriers in the Bush’. First let me introduce myself, my name is Kerrie Scott, and I am the Katherine Branch President, and sit on NT State Council. I wasn’t born in the NT, but I’ve lived here for 23 or so years of my life, and my husband is a born and bred Territorian, along with our three children. All of our children have been educated through Katherine School of the Air, with my oldest daughter now in her first year of boarding in Charters Towers, whilst my Yr 4 and Yr 6 children continue to study through distance ed. We live on Mountain Valley Station, a cattle and buffalo property along the Central Arnhem Road, 225km from our nearest town, Katherine.
When I was approached to say a little something to introduce the theme of today’s conference, the first thing I said was “I’m sure there are far more important people than me that would be suitable to speak!”. As I said those words, I realised inside, I felt like my voice really wasn’t worthy. Who would want to listen to what I had to say? There will be so many amazing, accomplished people in that room, I’m just a Mum, trying to educate her kids in the bush, like all the other Mums, jumping the same hurdles. Our very persuasive President Mrs Cook replied “Who better to talk about Barriers in the Bush than someone who lives it, and is passionate about it!”, so here I am, overcoming one of the biggest barriers, the invisible one that feeds our self doubt, tells us we are wasting our time, that no one is listening, that we don’t count, that we will just make do the best we can, that we will sacrifice and go without financially, that it is our fault we live out here, where no one else wants to, so we must suffer quietly and ‘suck it up’. …the government has no money for remote education right?........... The Territory Government spent $1.108 Billion dollars on education in the last financial year, and with 43% of Territory students enrolled in remote or very remote schools, a big chunk of that must have come our way right?....
There just isn’t enough time for me to go through all the obstacles we face as parents trying to educate our children. But for the benefit of those that like to be reminded, there are the financial drains of the full time position we have teaching, (or as the more inexpensive term used ‘Supervising’) our children in the home classroom, which is literally being a bloody teacher, yet without the perks, the training, the pay or the time off…or stress leave for that matter. If you are not in a position to “Supervise” yourself, you must find a way to pay someone to do so, whether you dedicate one parent’s wage, or you negotiate a deal with an employer to allow you to have a Home Tutor, in any form, you are paying for your child’s free public school education like no other Australian Citizen is expected to. Then it might be Boarding School Fee’s, travel costs, extra support, perhaps you have multiple aged children and you’re doing it all…it is all adding up. Financially, we are sucked dry trying to educate our kids. But you know what, we are not victims, we are a people that are okay with paying our own way, in fact, our mantra is that nothing good comes easy, but when the one thing our country prides itself on is access to a free education for all children, where is the equity? Why is the starting point for every other family different to ours? Isolated families are literally leaving the Territory in droves because they just can’t afford to educate their children up here. So many good families, ready to contribute so much to our community and economy just say, ‘It’s too hard and it is just too expensive’ and head off to greener pastures. I know this, because I
know them, I’ve seen it, over and over again. The only reason we have isolated families left at all in the Territory is that the ones that don’t leave are incredibly stubborn, relish in a challenge, and fundamentally just love the Territory. But I’ll come back to that.
Okay, so it is financially crippling, but that is just one barrier. Try finding support services when you have children with special needs. Feel the guilt of not identifying developmental issues or learning difficulties in your child earlier because you just didn’t know, and the precious little contact time with peers and professionals just wasn’t enough to pick up on those subtle signs. Try finally finding health and teaching professionals that ‘get it’, only for them to move on and leave before you even had a chance to let that breath of relief out.
Okay, so this is not a conference theme of ‘Here are the Barriers’, it is ‘No Barriers in the Bush’, and here’s where the good news comes. ICPA NT has been on the front line advocating for isolated children since 1981, and every single entitlement, support and allowance currently in place to help these kids, is there because of the dedicated councillors and members working constantly to improve our circumstances. I’ve been involved with ICPA for around 6 years, and on State Council for 4 of those, and I can tell you that these amazing women work their butts off getting it done. We’ve experienced some amazing achievements, but I tell you, it can be a hard slog. Our recent success with advocating for internet subsidies for distance education classrooms took two long years of phone calls, letters, delegations, teleconferences, research of legislation and statistics, information on classroom demographic and data usage in distance ed classrooms, and our own personal stories and case studies. We had to find the answers that no government department had ever bothered to look for, and our ducks had to be in a row every single conversation, every single audience. I can’t express the emotion we felt when at what felt like the 11th hour, we had success. If only it was that quick and easy to get results on all of our issues, but if you ever think for a moment that we can’t change the situation you are wrong. We are the ONLY ones that can change the situation.
So I did say I’d come back to our love of the Territory. The ICPA branches in the NT have the majority of their membership cohort coming from the Pastoral industry. This industry contributes over $450 Million dollars directly into the NT economy and in excess of $1 Billion dollars indirectly. But one of the barriers we face is the total misconception by the general public that all the people in the cattle industry are wealthy, and they pay because they can…and they should. The families on the coal face of this billion dollar injection of funds into the NT economy might have something to say about that. They’re ordinary people, working their butts off every single day, in the heat, in the flies, battling the tyranny of distance, where no one else wants to be, and you’d be embarrassed to work out their hourly rate. They’re working every single day, even when they’re not there, the existence of their livelihoods depends on them not dropping the ball…ever, and the majority of these people are not wealthy, if they were they might be on a yacht sailing the Whitsundays instead of processing cattle in 46 degrees, and whether it is pulling dying cattle out of bogs on Christmas Day because it hasn’t rained, or pulling bore pumps out of rivers because it has, they are there, and there is no ‘I’ve knocked off’. Our life is our industry, it is one. Any quick browse of a boarding school article on social media where remote families are asking for financial assistance, you’ll see hundreds of comments from the blissfully naïve suburban keyboard warriors, telling us to ‘just send them to the local school like we all have to’…only problem is our local school might be 700km away. We don’t want to send our children away to school, but what we do want is for them to have an unabridged education, and if we can’t provide what they need at home as they progress, we have no choice. For some families, there may be a small school offering a limited program nearby, or to home school through distance ed all the way through may be the preferred or ONLY option.
Anyway, my point is, it is of utmost confusion to me, why these isolated kids are not supported completely and without question in every way, as much as they need, to access an education – whether that be in the distance ed classroom, in a boarding school, or at university – wherever that might be. Our options in the Territory are extremely limited compared to other states, and so is our support. There are motions that will be presented today that have been put forward for many years, and it breaks my heart. Why do we need to fight so hard for every single thing? These are the kids that have an instilled love of the Territory, they have an incredible work ethic, they don’t see the social issues, the distance, the terrible roads, the lack of assistance…they see home. These are the kids that will return to the Territory, will remain in the Territory, as Doctors, as Truck Drivers, Cattlemen, Nurses, Teachers, Tradesman, because this is their home. The Territory needs these kids.
Access to education is the key, whatever your level of disadvantage, education is what will save us. Isolation is a complication that is difficult to quantify, yet if we don’t acknowledge the financial and social implications of neglecting to fully support isolated children trying to access a quality education throughout this geographically broad community, regardless of their colour or culture, we are doing more than just a disservice to the people within, we are essentially ensuring the demise of the Territory lifestyle we want to protect. Our kids need us to be their voice, and we need to break down every single barrier to ensure their right to an education, that will bring opportunity, fulfilment, success and achievement.
Kerrie Scott, Katherine Branch President, ICPA NT State Councillor.
Dr Tim Hawkes OAM
Boarding schools have not been immune from criticism that they aren’t doing enough to educate students about sexual consent. Indeed, with boarding staff acting in loco parentis, it becomes even more imperative for staff to ensure the boarders in their care are well-informed in relation to matter of sexual consent.
However, it is not just information that is needed, it is motivation to do the right thing. It is the creation of a culture of respect. It is an understanding of our common humanity and what needs to be done to live a generative life characterised by respect for each other. These things are often best modelled than lectured on.
The genesis of the contemporary drive to improve sexual consent education was a petition started in February 2021, by Chanel Contos, an ex-student of a boarding school in Sydney. The petition went viral with thousands of alleged sexual assaults being described by respondents when they were at their respective schools. The resultant publicity has led to urgent remedial activity in many boarding school communities.
History suggests this was not the first time sexual consent was diagnosed as a problem among young people. A previous Australian poll indicated that 55 percent of boys in their senior high-school years confessed they had a friend that had sexually assaulted someone. (1) In another study of Australian children, half of the girls and a third of boys aged 16 – 17-years said they had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour over the last year. (2)
It is clear that society continues to have a sexual consent problem among its youth.
The tragic reality is that many lives have been ruined because of predatory sexual behaviour. It is time for urgent remedial action. No boarding community that would want to call itself civilised can countenance the emergence of a culture of disrespect towards women, or a predatory sexual license among its students.
Our boarders need to recognise that satisfying sexual pleasure without the full consent of the sexual partner is a serious crime. Under certain circumstances, it can result in jail and being placed on a sex offenders register. This can be an appalling experience for the offender, their family and their school.
However, it can be even more appalling for the victim who may have to live with emotional scarring for life. Victims have been known to be so traumatised, they have found it difficult to form intimate relationships in the future. Many have suffered depression and engaging in acts of self-harm.
The legal definition of sex does not necessarily align with the definition of sexual activity. For a jury to decide whether sex took place, it generally needs the penis, finger or any other part of a person to be partially of fully inside another person’s vagina or anus. Sex is also deemed to have happened if oral sex was engaged in.
Those that are involved in kissing or fondling are not usually considered to have engaged in sex. They will usually be judged to have engaged in sexual touching or a sexual act. However, our boarders need to be careful. Although not classified as having sex, activities such as kissing and fondling, when uninvited and non-consensual, may be judged as sexual assault.
For this reason, any form of sexual activity should only be undertaken if it is transparently clear there has been consent.
In judging the legality of sexual relationships between young people, the law typically takes into account three factors:
The law has a difficult job in legislating sexual consent for children. On the one hand, the law wants to protect children from exploitation and harm. On the other hand, it wants to acknowledge children as sexual beings with sexual appetites and a natural curiosity about sex. These two goals do not always sit comfortably with each other.
In Australia, consent laws vary. Generally, the age of consent is fixed at 16 years, but in Tasmania and South Australia, it is set at 17 years.
The age of consent is the age it is judged a person has the maturity needed say ‘no’ and to say ‘yes’ in an informed manner. It is also the age when it is recognised that most are able to navigate the risks in sexual activity so that it doesn’t harm themselves or their partner.
Our boarders need to recognise that consent to sexual activity in the past does not mean consent is given for sexual activity in the future. Another important fact to bear in mind is that silence is not ‘yes’. Consent needs to be clear and ambiguous, and it needs to be continually given as sexual activity moves into different levels of intimacy.
If a boarder engages in sexual activity when their partner is drunk or under the influence of drugs, they may be charged with sexual assault or some other related offence. Boarders need to recognise that anyone in a condition that renders good decision-making less likely, must be considered ‘off limits’ to sexual advances. Likewise, if they engage in sexual activity with a partner who was asleep or too drowsy to understand what was going on, may well be found to have engaged in criminal behaviour, as would a person who tricks a person into sexual activity.
Consent means agreement to. Indeed, in order to avoid any change of being found to be acting unlawfully, boarders should be encouraged to seek enthusiastic agreement to any sexual activity they are proposing.
As things progress sexually, checks need to be made that the sexual activity is still wanted. Phrases such as, ‘Are you OK with this?’ and, ‘Is this good for you?’ need to used. It is important for boarders to know that a partner being silent is not a partner who is necessarily giving permission.
Body language is as important to note as much as verbal language. Squirming away, pushing away, arms and hands used to fend off advances, needs to be taken as clear signals of unwanted sexual activity. They are not to be seen as a challenge. They need to be seen as ‘no’.
A tricky element to the consent issue is the right of partners to change their mind. This is important to recognise. When affection and trust develops, there will often be a signalling that a greater level of intimacy is now appropriate.
However, care needs to be taken. The speed of arousal in some can be quicker than the speed of arousal in others. Therefore, it is important to advance the growth of sexual activity at the pace set by the slowest.
When checking on consent, it’s often better to adopt an ‘opt in’ policy rather than an ‘opt out’ policy. In other words, it is safer to ask if it’s OK to go further, than to go further and then ask if it OK.
Our boarders must recognise that for intimacy to be mutually enjoyable, the needs, feelings and desires of each partner needs to be satisfied. When no effort is taken to accommodate a partner’s preferences, a person runs the risk of being judged to have engaged in non-consensual sex.
Sexual appetites vary. Personalities vary. Upbringings vary. It is also important to recognise that religions and cultures vary. These influences need to be acknowledged. For one person, sex might just be a bit of harmless fun. For the other person, it may threaten estrangement from their family, banishment from their community and a difficult repentance before their God.
Respecting a person requires respecting their rights to determine what can happen to their body. Personal space needs to be respected. This includes when greeting and farewelling, when talking, when dancing and when kissing.
Equality is not just judged on age and on issues such as an overage person engaging in sexual activity with an underage person. It can also include sexual activity between people where there is a power imbalance such as a teacher and a student, a carer and the one they are caring for, and a coach and the person they are coaching. Any situation where a power imbalance is used to obtain sexual favours will likely to be seen as illegal. This includes sexual activity with someone who has a disability that prevents them from making appropriate choices about such activities.
Laws vary as to the age of consent. Some courts will consider a claim that a person ‘looked’ over the age of consent, but this cannot be relied on.
Some courts will also tolerate sex between underage youth if consensual and if both were underage and not too young and that there was not too much of an age difference. A person just over the age of consent engaging in sexual activity with one that is just under the age of consent may be deemed not to have committed a sexual crime. However, this is dangerous legal territory. If in any doubt about a person being an appropriate age, sexual activity should not be entertained.
The use of physical threats to obtain sex is transparently recognised by most as being coercion and unconscionable. Somewhat less well understood is the use of social and emotional coercion to engage in sexual activity.
Our students need to recognise that the law may see the following sort of language as coercion and criminal:
An extreme example of coercion is rape. The exact definition of rape varies, but it usually requires there to have been penetrative sexual activity without consent. It is a serious crime that can lead to significant prison sentences.
Aggravated rape is usually determined if the rape involved force, a weapon, leads to injury, was committed against a minor or involved a significant power imbalance. The penalties for aggravated rape are usually more severe than for rape.
Other sexual crimes include:
Some sexual predators have used blackmail to get sex. Sometimes this can involve such activities as the threat to release intimate photos or nudes unless sex is given. This sort of behaviour will be seen to be a very serious crime, as could any form of bribery to gain sexual favours.
THE ‘RED FLAGS’
There are absolutely no certainties whatsoever, but research suggests a number of ‘red flags’ exist that indicate non-consensual sex may be more likely. A boarder may be more at risk of failing to respect the notion of consent if they have the following attributes:
However, someone with none of the characteristics described above can still be guilty of demanding non-consensual sex, and someone with all the characteristics described above may never behave in this manner. Therefore, care is needed when making generalisations of this nature.
AN ISSUE FOR BOYS
Statistically, teenage boys are at a higher risk than girls of being charged with sexual assault due to engagement in non-consensual sex.
Sometimes, they are charged with the offence immediately after the sexual event. At other times, they are charged with the offence later in life. Anyone that has failed to ensure the sex they engage in has always been consensual, is living with a legal bomb that can go off at any time.
Quite properly, society is becoming more and more appalled by non-consensual sex and less and less willing to dismiss the matter as ‘boys being boys’.
Boys need to recognise that sex is not about conquest. A ‘yes’ given to sex needs to be arrived at without social, emotional and physical pressure. They also need to be aware that ‘no means no’. It doesn’t mean ‘maybe’. Neither does it mean the need to put more pressure on a partner to change the ‘no’ to a ‘yes’.
Having noted the above, predatory sexual behaviour by girls is not unknown. Some girls know just what to do in order to manipulate a partner into engaging in sexual activity.
INFLUENCE OF PEERS
In the cold light of day, most recognise that exerting inappropriate pressure for sexual favours is wrong. However, this recognition can become diminished at events such as parties. Alcohol and other recreational drugs, the urging of peers, and the arousal caused by pornography or the sexual behaviour of others, can result in a sexual hunger that trumps sexual morality.
A factor in many cases of non-consensual sex is the influence of peers. A victim, in wanting to be thought well of, will sometimes tolerate unwanted sex. A perpetrator, in wanting to be accepted by peers, will sometimes partner in sex acts that are demeaning and predatory.
For this reason, our boarders need to recognise that choice of friends becomes important, as is cultivating the capacity to make your own choices when it comes to engaging in sex. As the saying goes:
Show me your friends
and I’ll tell you your future.
THE INFLUENCE OF PORNOGRAPHY
Advocating consent is not easy in the contemporary age where teens have almost unlimited access to pornography. Research varies, but estimates suggesting four out of five teenage boys watch pornography at least once a week and one teenage girl in five.
Boys aged 14 – 17 years are the most frequent users of underage pornography. (3) In 2017, the Australian Institute of Family Studies reported that 44 % of 9 – 16-year-olds had watched sexual images in the last month. (4)
Much of the porn watched does not model consensual sex. It can encourage unhealthy fantasies associated with power and dominance. This can be carried over into real sexual relationships resulting in great harm to all parties. A mind saturated in pornography is a mind that can develop unrealistic expectations as to what is normal when having sex. Furthermore, a promiscuity can be encouraged which results is a growth of physical intimacy not matched by growth in social maturity.
Many sex criminals in our jails were big into pornography.
SEXTING AND REVENGE PORN
Some couples increase the sexual element of their relationship by sending ‘nudes’ to each other. It is interesting that engaging in sex, if consensual and of the legal age, is considered permissible by law; but filming sex and sending it to each other is not. The law is still catching up with modern times in some areas, and this is one of them.
Currently, the law threatens to make criminals of the third of our teenage boarders – this being the proportion of Australian teens that have sent, received or distributed nudes.
Given the uncertainty of outcome from a legal perspective, it is as well not to engage in any form of sexting. A further reason is that when a photo or video is posted, it can remain in the digital world forever, and can re-emerge later in life with the potential to cause great embarrassment and harm.
Solution: We can’t do anything other than encourage our boarders not to engage in sexting. It’s just not worth the risk. Research varies, but about 80 percent of nudes are shown to people without proper consent. Boarders need to recognise that assurances of confidentiality should never be relied on.
When an intimate relationship is dissolved, there can be significant anger and hurt. People tend not to make good decisions when angry or hurt. One thing some people go and do is to seek revenge by posting the nudes they have of their ex-partner. This is known as ‘revenge porn’.
Our boarders need to recognise that revenge porn is considered by most courts to be a form of sexual assault. In other words, it is considered non-consensual and illegal.
A further thing to be very careful of is viewing some else’s ‘nudes’ and sending them on to friends. Indulging in this sort of behaviour, is not just the innocent sharing of pictures between ‘besties’ and mates. It’s illegal and could result in criminal charges. Our boarders must not be a party to sharing nudes.
SOME HOMESPUN ADVICE
There is much more that can be said about sexual consent. Included in this is homespun advice on matter such as the following.
In a situation where one of our boarders may feel unsafe, they can discus ‘escape’ techniques such as saying they need to go to the toilet, or that they think they’re going to be sick. Thereafter, encourage them to retreat to the protective company of trusted friends, phone for help, or using the SOS feature on their phone, or leave the venue and make their way safely back home.
Advice might also be necessary about safe and responsible sex. Our boarders need to know something of the biology of sex before they engage in the physics of sex. There are a lot of mistruths out there such as not being able to contract an STI via oral sex, or not being able to get pregnant if you have sex standing up. Sex hygiene and contraception also needs to well understood.
Advice might also be needed on love and sex. As boarding staff, we need to recognise that teenage love is real and should not be dismissed as inconsequential or just ‘puppy love’. That said, it can be useful to gently share the reality that most people fall in love several times, with each occasion having the potential to bring great pleasure and pain.
It might also be good to explore the notion that some feel it appropriate to have a right to sex if they, or their partner, say they are in love. Wrong. Being in love is not necessarily a green light for sex.
For a variety of reasons, some want to wait not just for love, but for the right time before they engage in sex. These wishes need to be respected.
A real demonstration of love
can be in the preparedness to wait
rather than in a constantly voiced request for sex.
ACT WITH GRACE
Finally, being judged to have engaged in consensual sex is more likely if it is done with G.R.A.C.E.
One of the best ways to encourage our boarders to behave in relation to sexual consent is to get them to imagine what they would feel if a sexual partner was their daughter or son. Would they be happy for them to be treated in the way they were treating them? If not – they should then be encouraged to treat them better.
Boarders need to recognise that consent is about respecting the boundaries set by a partner. Most sexual assaults don’t happen by masked strangers in dark subways. Usually, it’s perpetrated by someone the victim knows.
Sex is a wonderful thing. However, if it is engaged in in a non-consensual way, it can lead to a life-time of mental and emotional scarring. It can also lead to prison. Therefore, our boarders need to be sure – as in absolutely sure - that any sexual activity engaged in by them is wanted, pleasurable for both parties and without harmful consequences.
If any boarder needs further help or advice on the matters raised, there are many they can go to for help including parents, boarding staff, doctors and counsellors at school. However, they may need to be reminded that any criminal matters should be reported to the Police.
There are many other help agencies that can assist including:
There is nothing wrong with us
that can’t be corrected by that which is right with us.
Dr Tim Hawkes
Visontay, E. (2021) Viral petition reveals more than 500 alleged sexual assaults in Australian private schools. The Guardian. 19 February 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/feb/20/viral-petition-reveals-more-than-500-allegations-of-sexual-assault-in-australian-private-schools
Zhou, N. and Visontay, E (2021) Viral petition against student sexual assault a ‘wake-up’ call Sydney private school principals say. The Guardian. 22 Feb. 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/feb/22/viral-petition-against-student-sexual-assault-a-wake-up-call-sydney-private-school-principals-say
Warren, D. and Swami, N. (2019) The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. https://growingupinaustralia.gov.au/research-findings/annual-statistical-reports-2018/teenagers-and-sex
Campo, M. (2016) Children and young people’s exposure to pornography. Child Family Community Australia. https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/2016/05/04/children-and-young-peoples-exposure-pornography
Quadara, A. El-Murr, A. and Latham, J. (2017) The effects of pornography on children and young people. Australian Institute of Family Studies. https://aifs.gov.au/publications/effects-pornography-children-and-young-people-snapshot