Herald Sun


- SUSIE O’BRIEN SUSIE O’BRIEN IS A HERALD SUN COLUMNIST susie.obrien@news.com.au @susieob

DON’T blame elite boys’ schools for the disgracefu­l attitudes some young men hold about young women. Private boys’ schools should not single-handedly carry the burden of teaching young men how to be respectful.

Parents have a much more important role than schools to play in teaching their kids about consent, respect and the impacts of sexual abuse.

Recent events show parents urgently need to have honest, frank conversati­ons with their teenage boys about the importance of having the consent of any sexual partner. If there’s any doubt about that consent, then they shouldn’t proceed.

These young men need to be reminded they shouldn’t assume a girl who is too drunk or wasted to say no to sex is saying yes.

I’d like to think we didn’t need to remind boys to treat their female friends like equals, not sexual objects, but it’s clear we do.

While being sure not to blame the victim, girls need to be reminded of the perils of not being in a position to communicat­e their consent.

Girls also need to be reminded they shouldn’t feel pressured into doing more or going further than they want.

And they need to be reassured they have a right to say no at any point — even if the male is their boyfriend or they’ve been together before.

Let me be clear: rape is caused by rapists, not drunk girls.

However, the 5000 testimonia­ls from the petition calling on sexual consent to be taught earlier in schools shows how far we’ve still got to go before girls can assume they will be safe, even when they’re hanging out with their friends.

The petition is filled with story after story involving a girl passing out to find out a boy sexually abusing her.

The stories are brutal, sickening and terrifying.

Some boys took photos of girls who were passed out drunk which ended up online, others took it in turns with friends to have a go and others “helped themselves” sexually — as one young woman put it.

It’s natural for the spotlight to turn to private boys’ schools given that a handful of elite boys’ colleges in Sydney emerged again and again as the perpetrato­rs.

Here in Victoria a handful of boys’ schools have come under scrutiny for their handling of rape allegation­s, misogynist student culture and cloak of maledomina­ted privilege.

One former student from Xavier College who finished in 2018 wrote on the petition of boys “forcing themselves onto girls, making them kiss them or perform oral sex on them”.

Monash University educationa­l expert George Variyan interviewe­d teachers in three elite private boys’ schools who talked of a toxic masculinit­y emanating from gender segregatio­n, the lionisatio­n of sport, and the hyper-competitiv­e culture.

Dr Variyan found even female teachers were targets. He uncovered disturbing evidence of stalking, sexual harassment, ritualised humiliatio­n and surreptiti­ous videorecor­ding by male students of female teachers in the schools he studied.

And yet, we can’t stop there.

The problem is much broader, and goes much deeper, than merely boys from the leafy east taking advantage of drunk girls at schoolies or ranking girls on their sexual availabili­ty on “hot or not” websites. It reflects the violent antifemale pornograph­y which many young men use as a sexual primer.

It reflects a political system that puts party politics ahead of a young woman’s right to have a rape allegation taken seriously.

It reflects dangerous views about gender inequality that results in intimate partner violence causing more illness, disability and death than any other risk factor for women aged 25-44.

And it reflects a dark underbelly of misogyny that is endemic in our society.

For instance, the latest National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey shows nearly one in three young men aged 16-24 don’t believe women who say they’ve been raped.

And nearly half think sexual assault allegation­s are often made to punish men.

These attitudes embed themselves in young men as young as 12. A survey by NSW counsellin­g service, The Line, found one in four 12 to 24-year-olds think it is OK for men to pressure women into sex.

Such views must be countered in a number of fronts — not just in the classroom.

Parents need to be supported in teaching their children good values by politician­s who understand the issues, and community leaders who have empathy for those who dare to speak out about abuse.

The bottom line is this: schools will never be able to teach equality and respect to boys who learn misogyny and disrespect at home.

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