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Consent Laid Bare

The actual etymology of the word 'consent' is Latin. So con means together and sentio means to feel. To me that feels like a really holistic definition of what this means.

Chanel Contos

In a world where female sexuality has been hijacked by forces such as porn, patriarchy, and male entitlement – how can we make sexual consent a priority for everyone? 

Whether it’s on campus, at the workplace or in their homes, Australians are shocked week after week at the violence visited upon women who are simply living their lives.  

In 2023, the Universities Accord review found that sexual assault and harassment on university campuses doesn’t just affect the wellbeing of students and staff, it can hold survivors back from success. As a result, campus safety has been deemed a top priority for universities, so what steps are those in positions of power taking to ensure the safety of women within university spaces and beyond?  

At this event author and activist Chanel Contos, UNSW student activist and gendered violence researcher Angela Griffin, First Nations lead of the First National LGBT+ Sistergirls and Brotherboys experiences with sexual violence survey Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat, and Chair of national violence prevention foundation Our Watch Moo Baulch, explored how we can utilise holistic approaches to community care when it comes to gendered violence. 

Presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and supported by Adelaide Writers’ WeekThe Wheeler Centre and the Sydney Opera House


Verity Firth: Hello everyone. Welcome to this panel event hosted by UNSW to celebrate International Women's Day. I'm Professor Verity Firth, Vice President, Societal Impact Equity and Engagement here at UNSW. And I'm really delighted to be here with you this morning to hear some incredible women who are doing great things, driving great progress towards a world without gendered violence. Before we begin today, I want to acknowledge the Bidjigal who are the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet.

I also want to pay respect to elders, past and present, and extend that respect to Aboriginal people here in the room with us today. So today we will hear from a panel of experts on the topic of consent, a concept that is vital for all people and which today will be explored through the complex and multifaceted lens of female sexuality.

In particular, this event explores how can we make sexual consent a priority in a world where female sexuality is too often hijacked by patriarchal influences. And what is the role of education and indeed universities, in making consent an imperative for all? Following the release of the government's much anticipated Australian Universities Accord and its recommendations for improving the reporting process around gendered violence, I really want to acknowledge the UNSW staff who worked tirelessly to improve the safety and security of staff and students on campus.

We are deeply committed to ensuring the safety and security of our students and staff, and strongly supporting action to eliminate sexual harm on university campuses. In line with this, I am also proud to share that UNSW new Gender Equity Strategy is being developed with an understanding of the evolving nature of gender dynamics, and will strengthen our efforts to ensure safety and success of all in our community.

I'd like to particularly thank Jan Breckenridge, whose research into gendered violence is world leading and who helped us bring this wonderful panel of speakers together. We're also proud to note, and I wouldn't be a UNSW person if I didn't say this, we're very proud to note that two of our panellists are UNSW alumni, but I will leave our wonderful host Moo Baulch to introduce the panellists fully.

Moo Baulch has worked in gender-based violence prevention for more than 20 years and across multiple countries. Their career involves transformative works leading peak body domestic violence, New South Wales head of customer vulnerability at CommBank and chair of Our Watch, the national prevention of violence against women organisation. So please welcome everyone to the stage.

Moo Baulch: Thank you Verity. Thank you so much to everybody for joining us this morning. I'm looking out for Jan Breckenridge. I'm not sure where she is. If she's not in the audience, I'm just going to shame her slightly. I'll be finding you later, Jan. I too would like to acknowledge that we're on Bidjigal land and pay my respects to elders, past and present, acknowledging that sovereignty was never ceded.

And this was, is, and always will be beautiful Aboriginal land and paying respects to First Nations people here with us today. Thank you for that lovely introduction. Verity, you make me sound a lot more special than I actually am. And yeah, it's almost close to three decades now working in this space in various places for me. I actually started off in universities in, the University of Queensland Student Union doing some of this work, particularly with LGBTIQ students way back in the late 90s in, in Queensland when I first moved here from London.

And I now have a deep honour to have been able to watch that transition over the years - we have made immense progress in this space in terms of the conversations that we're having now, that really only happened behind closed doors, maybe in in some of the women's collectives and other student, collectives spaces. Now we have a Universities Accord, which I think is quite astonishing.

I also have the honour of being the chair of Our Watch, which is the National Prevention of Violence Against Women organisation. And our vision is, a future where all women and their children live free from violence. And I'm sure most of us share that vision in this room.

It's critical that we work together in this space across the crisis response piece, recovery, early intervention, and prevention. Many of you would be aware that we have a national plan to end violence against women and their children. I think we're in the second and a bit year of that now. You know, sexual violence has often been, forgotten or hidden in that conversation around gender-based violence more broadly.

And I think it's critical that we're having these conversations at a community level, but also more broadly as a as a community as well. So it's my great pleasure to introduce you to three people who you probably know a little bit about already. Chanel Contos, founded Teachers Consent, which is a campaign that mandated consent education in Australia.

And to do this, she worked closely with politicians from across the political spectrum, which is the only way to do it right now. including prime ministers. Chanel was the recipient of the Australian Human Rights Commission Young People's Medal in 2021. and in 2023, she was named New South Wales Young Woman of the Year for her persistent efforts towards eradicating rape culture.

Chanel's also been presented with the prestigious Diana Award for her humanitarian work, and in 2022, she was listed as one of the BBC's 100 Inspiring and Influential Women Worldwide. She now has a Master in Education, Gender and International Development from UCL and was recently appointed by Julia Gillard to chair the Global Institute for Women's Leadership Youth Advisory Committee.

And in 2023, and I'm looking here because I had a copy of the book earlier, She published her first book with Macmillan Australia, Consent Laid Bare, described by Marie Claire as a “blistering, unflinching and therefore sometimes uncomfortable look at Australia's rape culture”. Can I ask you to welcome Chanel?

Dr Vanessa Lee, at, who I call a friend and has just given me a book of her poetry. Thank you Vanessa. Vanessa, is a First Nations woman with qualifications that include a PhD, I actually don't know what some of these main MPH, BTD and, like, 25 plus years of experience spanning a multifaceted career.

And you're the CEO and founder of Black Lorikeet Cultural Broker Management Consultancy as well. Vanessa believes that by economically empowering Indigenous society via culturally equitable business models will contribute to the self-determination and in return reduce suicides. And I know you've done lots of work in the in the suicide prevention space. Vanessa knows how to translate across cultures to ensure balanced negotiations, from the grassroots to the highest level of business, politicians and everybody in between.

And she's the First Nations lead for the very first, National LGBTIQA+ ,I think I've got the acronym right, sister girls and brother boys Sexual Violence Survey, which is being administered through Gendered Violence Research Network here. And recently, Vanessa applied her cultural broking expertise to Walking Between Worlds to amplify indigenous art through NFTs by working with four First Nations artists to create the world's first genuine generative collection.

Vanessa, what is an MPH?

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: So they’re just all my degrees.

Moo Baulch: Thank you. I'll ask you about that later. Angela Griffin, at the end here, is a research assistant at the Gendered Violence Research Network. Angela has previously worked as a student activist, agitating within university contexts as well as outside to end sexual violence on campuses and more broadly. In 2018 she was the Women's Officer here, and in 2019, SRC President, just during that really critical time.

Right, Angela? And before that, she was on the executive team of the Reclaim the Night Sydney rally. In 2021, she completed her Bachelor of Social Research and Policy and got First Class Honours. Congratulations. And as part of this degree, completed a thesis exploring student activist experiences of the university's implementation of the recommendations included in the Change the Course Human Rights Commission report and in February last year commenced a PhD exploring alternative non punitive pathways for universities to facilitate justice for victim survivors of sexual violence.

As you can see, we have an extremely illustrious panel and I can't wait to get the conversation going. So we had an opportunity to catch up the other day just briefly, and we had such an interesting conversation. I hope we can repeat parts of it. All three of you are really part of critical conversations that we're having about consent in relation to, to sexual violence, at the moment.

And I wanted to start with you Dr Vanessa, you've been having conversations with, you know, people on the ground at the most grassroots level of community that you possibly can for your research on LGBTIQA+ people's experiences of sexual violence. And when you saw the word ‘consent’ in the title of this panel today, what did that mean to you?

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: So I was traveling a lot, and I received the email and I looked at it on my phone, and when I saw the word ‘consent’, I, it like I just finished coming out of some really regional and remote areas, you know, and listening to people's stories and how they, they just didn't have the, the phone network to call for help and it just when I heard that word ‘consent’, I thought, I thought digital, I thought, Telstra put in, no disrespect to Telstra,

my opinions are my own. So Telstra, you know, put up these towers on Aboriginal land. No funding goes back to Aboriginal people or profit goes back to Aboriginal people for the towers. And yet you can stand near a tower in regional Australia and have zero bars on, on my Apple phone. Right? And I have two. And it was at that pivotal point in my life that I actually thought, you know, like if somebody had me here, I couldn't I literally couldn't ring for help.

When I read that ‘consent’, I thought, where do people get consent? Where did Telstra get consent from? Where do the Aboriginal people in these regional lands get consent from to report sexual violence? So that was my thinking and it really made me think about like the word ‘consent’ on that level. And, you know, doing all this work and traveling.

And I just thought, does anyone even think about that? We put all this money and nobody is asking, who gave you consent to do that? Who gave you, you know, what consent do you need to make a phone call to get help to report sexual violence? That was where I saw it. And then I read the email later.

Moo Baulch: Chanel, your advocacy and your book, you know, really demand that we have a new conversation about consent and the concepts that sit behind consent and our collective understandings of consent. And, you know, particularly talk to the sort of generational understandings of consent and the concepts associated with it. You've mobilised probably hundreds of thousands of young people and older people around this issue, and you're demanding what we that we almost rethink what consent means.

Can you talk to us a little bit about what consent means to you?

Chanel Contos: Yeah. So it's it feels so silly that it's such a hard question to answer because it means so much, but it's also so simple. So I think definitions of consent that, you know, we widely understand tend to be very focused on the textbook definition or the legal definition. So this idea of agreeing to do something. But a lot of the content in Consent Laid Bare is about challenging this idea of harm, which I think we're going to get into on the panel later, of how much can - what does agreeing mean, kind of under this patriarchal system where so many other things are coming into play.

And I think that when we're talking about sexual consent in heterosexual encounters, the innate power imbalance that already kind of like toys with this idea of the definition. So I guess I propose that we rethink how we see consent, not just in a legal framework around - and also sorry to answer the question - really simply, when I hear consent, I definitely think about sexual violence and sexual consent.

That's kind of obviously my no, you know, life's work. So that's where it goes to straight away. And the actual etymology of the word consent is it's Latin. So ‘con’ means together and ‘sentio’ means to feel. And to me that feels like a really holistic definition of what this means, because it reflects the ongoing nature, the mutuality between it and, a large argument of the book is that we kind of need to reframe consent as an act of empathy and understanding, which can apply to everything can apply to putting up towels, and a community can apply to online consent, when you, you know, take a formal, you're agreeing to your privacy. And then for me, you know, the focus of my work is on sexual consent.

Moo Baulch: Thank you. Chanel. Angela, you were on the front line, as SRC President back in 2019 when this really emerged as a, you know, an immense issue that, of course, you know, those of us had been working in universities and particularly, in the student space knew, that this was going on. And then suddenly we had we had the Human Rights Commission data and, and a growing conversation in universities about what, what needed to be done to address the horrific rates of violence.

And you're currently undertaking a PhD, you're looking at alternative ways to address justice in relation to sexual violence. I'd love to hear more about that. What do you - what do you what does consent mean to you in that context, having lived through that intense time?

Angela Griffin: I think, for me, you know, consent - I really loved your definition and pulling out the words to feel together - I think for me, consent is about, yeah, empathy and really just respecting the other person. I think sometimes in, in the media, people get a little bit, you know, we overcomplicate the term consent. I think at the end of the day it's about, you know, in any human interaction, it's about respecting the other person that's with you and really, understanding them as a person.

And I think when things go wrong in sexual interactions in universities, it was often in student accommodation and in clubs and societies and sort of spaces that people were kind of trying to negotiate sexual relationships for the first time. It's just about like seeing the other person as a person at the end of the day. And I really think that that is just at the heart of it. Yeah. Empathy, respect for another person.

Moo Baulch: Yeah. I think we discussed this a little bit the other day, but I'm really interested to hear - and this is one for, you know, all of you, please jump in - what's required for somebody to be able to consent? You know, what does what does informed consent look like?

Angela Griffin: Yeah I think informed consent, I think it's messy. I think it's awkward. I think sexual relationships, like so many things, are not clear cut. And so I think to be informed is to continually check in with yourself and check in with others to make sure that, you know, everything feels right along the way. And it's about accepting that relationships are like uncomfortable and awkward sometimes, and just navigating that with empathy for yourself first and foremost, I think.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: But I think also just to add to that, I think there's also that invisible consent. And we were talking about this earlier because the research that we've just finished and, the experiences of LGBTIQ+ Sistergirls and Brotherboys experiences with sexual violence, but, you know, there's that invisible consent because in our ethics, we didn't ask anybody to identify themselves because we were collecting baseline data.

There's no names, phone numbers or addresses. But people still had to feel inside themselves to give consent to talk about something so personal. And, you know, I spoke to a lot of people with English as a second language, a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And the thing is, people gave consent after knowing who I was, my genealogy, my cultural background, my understanding of different cultural laws, and then they felt comfortable in giving the consent.

But they didn't say, oh, you know, ‘I give you consent. I'll do this’. Yeah, it wasn't like that. It was knowing the invisible language that goes with that invisibility of the consent and the cultural understanding of that and, and bringing that together for the consent. And that's when people were… they would sit with me and, you know, they sometimes people would ask like, can we go through this together or can we... can you sit over there and I'll sit here and we can I can ask you questions?

So I think there's that invisibility of informed consent. And that's sometimes what you see in research. And that's sometimes what you need to, to make people feel comfortable to come out and do the research. But at the same time, they have to give that informed consent to themselves, like you're saying. And I think there's that the layers.

Moo Baulch: I'm going to go to some question. I've got some really good questions coming in on slide I. So I'm just going to jump into them if that's okay, fellow panellists. Oh this is a tricky one. How do female classroom teachers interrupt the influence of radicalised misogyny influencers, eg Andrew Tate and his ilk, on young teens?

This is a tough one, right? And it's a live conversation. 

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: Can you repeat that again?

Moo Baulch: How do female classroom teachers start to disrupt those conversations that are being led by people like Andrew Tate and other, you know, deeply misogynistic people who have vast influence on social media?

Chanel Contos: I'm going to jump in here because it's really interesting, the kind of like Andrew Tate phenomenon, actually, only 1 in 6 young men see him as a positive role model, but that is still a lot of young men. And that's obviously a critical mass that can define a whole culture. And there's been reports of lots of female teachers leaving schools, leaving their workplaces, because the misogyny they're experiencing, or they can't handle the conversations or they don't know how to.

I think that speaks to quite a few wider societal issues. Firstly, we need teacher training as part of this kind of holistic approach to rolling out respectful relationships and consent education. And there's actually an initial teacher education in Australia, the same way that there’s the national curriculum, and I really think that teaching all teachers, not just the PDHPE teachers who teach consent, but all teachers who, you know, playground duty, English teachers to have these comments or even just again, if someone in your class is bringing up Andrew Tate and not just being like, ‘Don't watch that’, because obviously telling a 14 year old boy not to watch something is going to make him watch it even more.

But how to have the conversation, you know, watch it with them, talk through the concepts in it and what these things mean. And then the other large societal issue that this talks to is, why are so many young boys and men gravitating towards this person? He is clearly filling a need for them that we have failed to fill.

We need more positive role models. We need more young men to.. older younger men to step up for those younger younger men. And I think we also need to acknowledge that as we kind of have this correction, a very small correction albeit, in a, you know, in millennia-long patriarchy, young boys, I think, are feeling a little bit lost and confused.

And I think we need to hold space for that and understand that. There are clear gender roles, whilst where the intention is to say no, actually you can be anyone you want to be and whoever you want to be, snd this isn't your only route to being a man and a masculinity and a good person. Whilst we've kind of like disrupted that in a way, I don't think we've given support at the same time to show what it now means to be a young person and how to go through that process. So I think the, you know, if a school is struggling with characters like Andrew Tate in the classrooms or in the playground, we really need to, I think, look at just kind of healthy masculinities as a whole and, filling that need for young men elsewhere.

Moo Baulch: Thank you. Any other thoughts?

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: I think it's interesting, one of the conversations I had with a participant -  they were telling me a story about the their son at school and, people I spoke to, I didn't ask them if they were LGBTIQ. Okay? So the process was about letting different areas of community know what we were doing, that I was coming and they organised who was going to be there.

Okay? So.. but I've been out like 80, 80 times, maybe 90. So I know exactly who I am now. But, so one of the participants was telling me about how his son was in grade seven at a regional school and the teacher, because this, this sort of flips it, where does where does it all lie?

And the teacher was identifying as mixed. And the participant, the young man said to me - so the father and the son, I guess I'll just say the father. So the father said to me, ‘What does mixed mean?’ And I said, ‘Did I hear him wrong? And he said, Mr. or Mrs?’ And, and he said, ‘No mixed’. And he said he went away… the person, the teacher went away for the holidays and came back and had both breasts removed. And I was like, ‘Oh, so they’re transgender.’ And the parent looked at me and said, ‘So what are they?’ And I said, ‘Does it matter? And they said, ‘Well, is it Mr or Mrs?’ And it was the label, the actual label. So the teacher chose to be called mixed, whatever.

And I said to this person, the parent, I said, ‘You know, there's legislation in Queensland about how principals can address LGBT, same sex, or vulnerable populations in schools’. I said, ‘Do you want me to email that to you so you can read it?’ (Laughs)

Anyway, so and it was interesting like and like he said to me, ‘So many other parents have removed their children from the class’. And I said, ‘What, based on a name?’ I said, ‘I've changed my name three times by choice’. And like, I think it's a really interesting understanding of the lack of education in society as a whole and, and what we are creating.

And I turned around and I said to the parent, ‘If you… you know, that you could actually be sued for your negativity here’. I said, ‘It's not okay. It's absolutely not okay’. And I said, ‘So make your choice’. And he went, ‘Oh, so it's not up to me. It's actually up to my son’. I said, ‘Well, yeah. Is your son upset?’

And he said, ‘No’. And I said, ‘Well, what's the issue?’ And he said, ‘Well, I just have to sign the form for to let him go on excursion’. And I said, ‘Is it a day trip?’ And he said, ‘Yeah’. I said, ‘Do you know how many people will be on that day trip?’ And he said, ‘Oh, there'll be four other teachers’.

And I said, again, ‘What is the issue?’ And he said, ‘So I just should sign it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, and don't really go have some therapy for this conversation’.

Like, really. But it comes back to that, you know, what is.. It's what is the media saying? What is society saying? You know, where is it all lying? You might have an opinion.

Angela Griffin: Oh no, I just think you handled that very beautifully. Well done.

Moo Baulch: Thanks. I mean, I think it's interesting, isn't it, that that schools and universities become the places where we have to tackle the most sticky issues in society…

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: And have those conversations. And have make it real. Yeah.

Moo Baulch: ...and I wonder, there's a question here, what age should consent education and conversation start? And what does that look like in the family environment? Anybody got thoughts on that one?

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: I remember years ago I was teaching up in the Torres Strait and I was talking to them - I was the behaviour management and IT specialist - and I was talking to people about families, about sexual education. And I remember addressing, like I addressed the whole P&C committee and they kicked me out of the meeting.

They did not want to have this conversation. So I did what every mature woman does. I went home and got my grandma. And so my grandma helped me to, you know, have these conversations. And we started having community conversations with families. You know, about, just sexual education and what should be allowed and what shouldn't be allowed and things like that. And just to move people ahead, you know, and I think that - so starting it like there's ways of framing conversations in grade one, you don't have to wait till someone's 15 because young people are having that conversation.

Children in the playground are talking. Parents don't know. You don't know what they’re saying. And like it was interesting, like teaching it. And you sit down with young kids on the computer and I tell you what, they don't sit there and go, ‘Oh, the data set says this’. Yeah, nice. They're like, ‘How do we hack?’ Right?

You know, so those conversations are there and they might not use the word ‘hack’. But you know it's interesting that they're not… the innocence of communication is lovely. But at the same time, how do we make sure that people understand that consent matters?

Moo Baulch: I'm going to throw in a maybe slightly controversial one here. I might ask you to, to start Chanel, because I know people have asked you this before a girls only schools and option to protect girls? Like, is that the option? Why should girls be put into spaces of potential harm in order to soften or socialise boys?

Chanel Contos: Yeah, really? Good question. so, yeah, this is a question that I've gotten before about all boys schools and girls schools. And it's really funny - It's basically a clip from Press Club and someone asking, should all boys schools exist? And I answer, sort of saying, ‘It's really hard because I don't particularly believe in single sex education institutions for boys, but I really do believe in them for girls’.

And like, that got into the incel community on Instagram and there's a lot of comments on that post that is a really grim reflection of society. But the thing is, it shouldn't… It's so hard, I think, that in the topic of sexual violence, of course, single sex environment for girls is going to be safer because 97% of perpetrators of sexual violence are men.

That's a fact. Like, if that upsets anyone, you need to kind of reflect and understand why. But it shouldn't be the case. I think we need to look at how we can make it so that before children go to school, everyone is working to ensure that these spaces are as safe as possible. And of course, most single sex schools are going to be private, which means that's adding another layer of exclusion to the kind of education or the safety or whatever we want to call it.

And I also think, you know, if we're not going to..  I'm not saying we should demolish single sex boys schools in one day, but I think we can also use them as a serious opportunity to understand how we're shaping the culture of the country and what we're doing in them. Like, we can use these spaces that disproportionately host boys who are going to become men who carry disproportionate power in our world. So we can actually really heavily invest in those spaces and make them as healthy and happy and respectful as possible to use it to our advantage.

But yeah, it's hard because overall, I think that we shouldn't have private education. I think it should all be public education. But at the same time, I think that going I went to a single sex girls school and it was a true privilege to learn and be with other women quite away from the male gaze.

Moo Baulch: Thank you. Any other thoughts on… how you think about single sex education Angela? I'm interested.

Angela Griffin: Well I grew up in Maitland, so, there was no single sex schools that I was aware of. Yeah, I think, you know, I read in, Chanel's book, she speaks very eloquently about, the intersection of male entitlement and wealth entitlement. And I think that's a really interesting way to look at, particularly those single sex, male private schools in the elite areas of Sydney. I had never interacted with a school like that when I was growing up. And I think you… there is a real problem when, yeah, you have this, entitlement to, women's bodies and you also have, this entitlement to one day be in a powerful position, earn a lot of money. It's not a culture that I would ever want a future child of mine to be engaged in.

And I think, you know, I think it's a really good thing that there is increased pressure on those schools. Right now. And, obviously Four Corners did, an exposé into a couple of schools around Sydney, which I think is a really positive thing. I think, yeah, single sex schools… I'm not an expert on the area, so I don't have a fully formed opinion. But I do think that clearly there are some serious issues with misogyny in some of these places, and change needs to happen.

Chanel Contos: Can I jump in there and just add one little anecdote? So my friend grew up in Perth and in year 12 she went to… she got invited to two school formals. One was a state school boy who invited her, and then the other one was, what's it called? Holt or something like… a very, you know, like elite, you know, the boys school there.

And so she went to the state school formal first, and it was just kind of like, ‘Yeah, okay, whatever. Cool.’ And then the next weekend, she was going to the private school boys formal and her, dad sat her down and had this, like, giant chat with her about consent. And, you know, your own body and blah, blah, blah and all this stuff.

She was like, ‘Dad why are you making such a big deal out of this? Like, I literally went to formal last week. Everything was fine’. And he said, ‘Yes, but these boys have never been told no.’ And that like, really stuck with me because… it's like sexual violence is essentially an entitlement to another person's body. And so I think we need to like, really look at these other aspects that fade into entitlements and lack of accountability.

And the power structures that are upheld in those institutions, not just gender, but also class, also race, also colonial and how they all tie in. Then these boys go off to be our prime ministers, our ministers, the CEOs of the biggest companies and that's why we have like really devastating policies around refugees, women, First Nations people, because that apathy is embedded in them from a young age. Sorry, I just went on a rant. I did my dissertation on this. And I think.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: Entitlement also goes to I think entitlement also goes to, like the way that we parent. So my youngest son, I remember when he was three years old and I said to him… and he was about to have a bath, and I said, and you know, you the process, you, you have the washer, the soap and everything.

And I said ‘Today, honey,’ I said, ‘You have to bathe yourself’. And he looked at me like. And I said, and I said to him, I said, ‘Because,’ and I pointed to his penis and I used my language words. Okay. And I said to him in language, I just said, ‘You own that. I don't own that, and I'm not allowed to touch it.’

I said, ‘From this day forward, it's yours’. I said, ‘And you have to look after it and protect it.’ And he sort of looked at me and I said, and, no I did. And I said to him, ‘And no one else is allowed to touch it’. I said, ‘Not grandma, not Nana, not uncle, not this person, no one’.

I said, ‘And you must always be respectful with it’. And I had this conversation with him and then like I had to do it ongoing till he was nearly five. And today, like my son is 26, 25, 26 this year. And hopefully he won't hear the podcast. But he is… when he talks like he's actually quite mindful and it's really nice. And I did it to both my boys and, it's nice watching him, respectful of his body and of women. And he understands that, like, you know, he understands the distance, the safe... Because we talked about safe touch, good touch, bad touch, no touch.

And that's what I used to call it with him. And so it's really interesting saying this young man who was respectful, I'm not saying my son is innocent. I don't know what goes on behind closed doors, but it is really nice to say that. And, you know, like when you see young men who haven't had that opportunity and you see them and they don't know.

So it comes back to parenting as well. And sometimes we don't put onus on the parent and we don't say, you know what, maybe the parents should take some responsibility here. And when are we going to say as a society that maybe, we have parenting programs and, and prenatal programs for women, but we don't have anything for men.

And those programs, you know, like how to actually have these conversations if you have a son or daughter, how to change society with those discussions as parents. So by the time your child goes to school, they have a little bit more respect for that little boy or girl sitting next to them. So, you know, and it's part of that.

You're doing that university thing. But it is, it's a part of that bigger conversation. When are we going to take that responsibility to parents?

Chanel Contos: Can I also just jump in there again? Sorry, I think that you're right. I think that this is also, you know, the school is a great safety net and that we can't guarantee that every single parent in the country is going to adequately educate their children about this. A lot of parents are perpetrators of sexual assault, whether to their own children or others, but it is really the parents role.

I think also another issue here that ties back to the original conversations around like what is consent is we essentially have an empathy gap between the way we socialise boys and the way we socialise girls, and what we expect of them in relation to that. And I think we raise our girls to be over accommodating and, you know, not make a fuss and, be really pleasant to be around.

And at the same time, we're kind of encouraging our boys to be go getters and ‘Don't take no for an answer’. And that imbalance means that we just have like a really bad situation that we're starting from. So I think it's really parents’ responsibilities to look at nurturing the healthiest generation of boys they can, in the next step as well.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: But it’s also determined by cultures. Because like some cultures don't have that male dominance. So, and some cultures have a different way of looking at the male and female relationships. And, and, you know, we have, in Indigenous culture, like a lot of it, a lot of a lot of my people still, practice initiations and, and, you know, male and female are separate.

And so those conversations, it's really interesting the impact of Western ways of thinking on our initiation processes and what that brings to the table and what that now means and how it's changed so much in the short time since I've been through my processes. And then, you know, and others have gone through their processes.

So I think it's that larger factor of society as well on that impact. And then who does take responsibility because the media passes blame. And then we see everybody else passing blame and then like that invisibility comes back. So when you think about that whole consent as a society, is it us as a as a people? Like is it, you know, when we walk out of here today, are we going to say, well, what did I what am I going to do to ensure safe consent somewhere anyway with somebody?

What am I going to do? And you know, that question, you know, is real. And it's so when we yeah, I'll stop.

Angela Griffin: I just wanted to add just one last thing to the, single sex school discussion, which is also, I think it's really easy to forget, about like, trans and gender non-conforming young people as well. I think in your teenage years you should be allowed to explore gender. And when gender.. you know you're educated as at your education, is predicated on your gender, how do you explore your sexuality?

Do you have to be removed from your school if you, realise that you're transgender? Do you remain in your school but you're the only student that looks and sounds like you? I think, as a society, we should be moving towards, yeah, more acceptance of different presentations of gender. And I think, yeah, that begins with our schools.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: And families.

Angela Griffin: Yeah.

Moo Baulch: And maybe even an early childhood education, which is another whole part of this is, that I'm very passionate about. I'm going to have to mash up some questions here now because I'm running out of time and I've got them coming in second fast. Angela, there's lots of people asking various things around what non punitive measures for perpetrators look like, what alternative ways we can respond to sexual violence if the criminal legal system doesn't prevent harm and often doesn't respond well.

And how could universities implement a restorative justice approach to sexual violence. So I'm really interested in your thoughts on that vast area that you're doing your PhD in.

Angela Griffin: Yeah, it's a big question. I have to, qualify as well. I am very new to my PhD experience. I actually only started this February. So last month, yeah, so I'm definitely still new. But I will say, you know, unfortunately we don't necessarily have a model that we can say, well, universities should just do that. At this stage restorative justice processes are still very much in their, conception phase.

But I think it's about saying, you know, our model right now, in my experience, doesn't really provide satisfaction from either victim survivors or perpetrators or community. And I think that's where, you know, alternative ways of looking at justice really provides a potential answer. Not necessarily an answer, not too sure yet, but a potential answer to, what could work better?

Because, you know, alternative justice is all about involving the entire community, not just saying it's victim survivor versus perpetrator. It's about saying, you know, how did we get to this point, you know, what messages was this person receiving? How can we improve their behaviours and also the behaviours of the community around them to ensure that they don't, you know, continue with this?

And also around the victim survivor, it's about saying, you know, courts don't work for everyone. In fact, they don't work for most. What sort of support can we put around this individual that will help them remain and study, that will help them remain in employment? And I think universities at the moment, largely have kind of complaints mechanisms that is really around, you know, as a victim survivor, you need to put your hand up and say, this has happened to me, and you kind of go through this adversarial system of proving that it happened and proving why something might need some action, might need to take place.

And universities are not courts. You know, universities do not have the power to say ‘You are guilty’ or ‘You are not guilty’.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: We should tell them.


Angela Griffin: So I think universities struggle to know how to navigate that. And that's why I think instead of, trying to just keep butting against the system that's guilty versus not guilty, I think we need to transform the system and work with the fact that universities can't say guilty or not guilty. Maybe it doesn't matter if the person's guilty or not guilty.

What do we need to do in this situation to make sure that that victim survivor is supported, to continue doing what they need to do, and that perpetrator is able to acknowledge harm caused and move forward in a positive direction? So I know that's not a really strong answer with lots of, you know, structures around it. But I think it's about universities looking into the future and, and, and conceiving of different ways of doing things.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: Is it, can I just ask, is it like, is it language? Is language a good start?

Angela Griffin: Yeah, I do think language is a is a good start. I think, conversations are a good start. You know, I think talking to, young people in languages they understand and from faces that they respect and appreciate. You know, I think, yeah, for too often universities have had like senior leaders talking down to students. And I don't think that that really gets the message across. So language from people that they listen to is really important.

Moo Baulch: Yeah. Thank you. I'm going to invite, audience members here to come and help up to a microphone. If anybody has a question they'd like to come and ask.

Audience 1: We're all brought up with shame and taboos around sex due to culture and religion, which is at the core of how we learn or how we not learn about sex. Some have argued to reduce sexual violence is to teach real world sex education, including consent at schools and at home from a very young age, to de stigmatise and normalise sex and to create a culture shift in this area. I'd like to know what your opinion is on this. Is there anything being done about it, and what are the barriers?

Angela Griffin: Yeah, I mean, I think all of what you've just said is, is right. I think destigmatising and de shaming sex and sexuality is so important, especially for women. I think there's so much shame messaging taught to you, especially when you're in your adolescence. So I think de-shaming areas are really important. I think there are some areas where I think sex education in schools still has a long way to go, but I, I'm really heartened by some of the efforts being done by people like Chanel who are, putting all of this effort into increasing sex education.

And I think it's also really important that schools are teaching queer sex education as well, because I think that that's an area that's languished for a very, very long time as well. But I'm sure Chanel has lots to talk about on this topic.

Chanel Contos: That's great. Just to add a tiny bit, but everything you said basically, is, as Dr Vanessa keeps bringing up today when I've been saying things but that, shame into taboo and stigma around sex is a very colonial construct as well, and a very patriarchal one with lots to kind of unpacking it. A lot of it is based in the idea of shaming female bodies and like, what our bodies do around, you know, all the way from menstruation to actual, to intercourse.

And I don't know the point that you said, but I can't remember. It was. Yeah, I'll end it there.

Moo Baulch: Any thoughts on that, Vanessa?

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: No, I just think it's understanding culturally what shaming and taboo is. Because different cultures have different understanding of what body shaming is. And, you know, and, like, I didn't grow up in a culture where I was body shamed by other Aboriginal people. I received it from white fellers. And we and my brothers and sisters and I, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would stand there and we're like, ‘Oh’, because you don't, you just don't.

So it's really interesting to hear a definition of body shaming. And I think it's one of those things. It's like, I think it comes like, coercive control. There's no there's no real definition that brings in the LGBT population, First Nations, different… and like Australia's multicultural society in all of that. So because, and I bring up coercive control because quite often body shaming is also part of coercive control without using the body shaming.

So it starts to all… you start to see all the pieces of the puzzle coming together and across cultures and within cultures. So I think, it's that's the way I see it.

Chanel Contos: I just remembered what I was going to say -  the thing was that, shame allows silence to breed, and that silences is where, especially really young children, a lot of, it's really dangerous basically, it's not just, ‘Oh, this is embarrassing’. It's taboo. It's actually quite insidious what those taboos and stigmas can do, for everyone and especially young people.

Moo Baulch: Thank you. Any other questions? Yes. Thank you.

Audience 2: Morning. Ann Rose recently released a report on international universities where combining consent and education and awareness training with verbal and resistance training is really effective. What's your view on…like a feminist take on self-defense or trauma informed self-defense in combination with consent training?

Angela Griffin: I think anything that empowers people to feel safe is always helpful. I think self-defense on its own is never a good option, because it sort of gives off this message that, you know, you need to defend yourself and there's nothing else that needs to happen. But I think, yeah, if it's something that's in combination with a larger program, then you know, empower people to feel like they're safe. I think that that's always going to be a positive thing.

Chanel Contos: Just to add to that, I won't go into too much detail, but basically there's different, kind of like stress response to traumatic situations. And a large reason that so much sexual violence goes without account or without, kind of understanding of how it's happening is because it can be… we all kind of know fight or flight and I guess, like self-defense training is to feed into, you know, help someone fight.

But if we're talking about sexual violence in a stereotypical heterosexual sense, and we're talking about a man and a woman, a lot of the time the perpetrator is likely going to be stronger, bigger, faster. Therefore, fighting is actually not a safe or logical step to take, in situations. And I think self-defense training, you know, again, if it's making you feel fitter, stronger, more confident, that's great, alongside other things and acknowledging that that's kind of only like protection against very specific types of rapist. My book goes into this in way more detail, but as in the types of people who intentionally kind of want to hurt you in like quite sporadic attacks, things like that, rather than the reality of sexual violence for so many people, as people they already know may trust for young people, they very well may have a crush on them at the beginning of the night, but not want to be doing that at the end. And I think, things like self-defense training aren't as useful in that space.

Audience 3: Thank you. I’ll try to be quick. I wanted to thank all of you for fantastic talks today and for, being so inspiring and making it worthwhile actually coming on campus. I just wanted to make a point about how consent is, and I tried to make this on slido but  didn't have very many characters. How consent.. it does feel really mired in a kind of heteronormative script of men wanting sex and women and people of other genders, you know, resisting it or acquiescing to it, and this sense that we need to be in sex education, at least moving beyond that to notions of agency and negotiation as being absolutely central.

And I feel that you've got onto that. And also to thank you for some of the comments that you made about children and how if children aren't actually trained, that they don't have to have their bodies touched by other people, how hard it becomes to actually draw those lines, and Chanel to pick up on the point that you made about how self-defense stuff is just so much at the end of this line in sexual violence. And if the person that is, perpetrating violence against you is, you know, your friend or the person you're on a date with, or your lover or a member of your family, you just really not likely to go for gouging their eyes at that point. That said, I did send my daughter to self-defense training as soon as she was going out on the trains at night. But thank you. and yeah, great conversation to have.

Chanel Contos: Thank you so much.

Angela Griffin: I wanted to just pick up on what you were saying about… because I think, the reality of sex is, I, I really like the idea of sex neutrality. You know, I think, the reality of sex is sometimes it's messy, sometimes it's awkward, sometimes it's not this push and pull of, you know, ‘I want sex, and you have to agree or not agree’.

Usually it's a lot more nuanced than that. And I think, you know, considering sex as something that, you know, we're aiming for it to be 100% enthusiastic and amazing sex every single time. But the reality is, sometimes it's not, and allowing for that as well. And, and, giving people space to, to kind of navigate consent respectfully. I think respect is like the ultimate goal and acknowledging, yeah, that sex is should be fun, but sometimes it's messy and awkward as well.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: But I think also in that it's determined across cultures again. And I think the layering and I don't I don't mean just like culture in like, you know, Greek, Indigenous, Chinese, you know, Lebanese or something. I mean, like there’s cultures in society as well and you know, and the discussions about sex across those cultures as well. And the you know I come from Cape York in the Torres Strait, and I, you know, in a previous life I worked at University Sydney in medicine and in the School of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, whatever you want to call it anyway.

Anyway, the... what you could and couldn't talk about with sex was really interesting, Even as a, you know, as a senior academic. And, and I do a lot of like… I did a lot of work in data. And so our conversations in data were very different. Like you couldn't go into the lunchroom. It was almost like a taboo.

It was really interesting. But yet in my family, and I grew up, my mum's, you know, I come from a very, very big Indigenous family. And so our discussions weren't, like, we talk about sex. So it's really interesting. And then it was until you go like for me and I think a majority of my family, we go into the larger society and the different layers that you can communicate.

But there is still different layers in our culture as well. Like what I talk about with my cousins I certainly wouldn't talk about with my grandmother, I can tell you now. And so I think that layering and understanding that levels of respect are different when you talk about sex and that… So when you talk about consent and, and I'll just give you a short anecdote.

I know we're running on time. like I remember saying to my, my grandmother was like nearly, she was about 74 or something. And anyway, she had to… so she started, what’s the English word? So I can't think of the English word. I'm sure someone will. So she started, sneezing and peeing herself, inconsonant?

Moo Baulch: I don't think there is a word in English for that. Unless it’s medical.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: And, and I said to her, I came home and I said, ‘You know what you need to do?’ I said, ‘You need to practice some exercises’. And she looked at me and said… and I've got one aunt outside, another aunt over there, another on at the other side, you know, and like… and my grandmother's an avid gardener. So, and I said, ‘You need to practice some, some exercises’. And she looked at me and she said, ‘Like what?’ And like, but she didn't say, ‘Like what?’ Okay, English is a third language. So she went like that (gestures) like that. Like, you know, like what? And I said, you know, ‘Like maybe’ I said, ‘You know, tampons?’.

And she looked at me like she had no idea what I was talking about. And I was like, ‘Well, maybe your finger?’ And like, she even looked at me like that. And I said,

‘Okay, tampons’. And I said, ‘You know, squeeze your muscles around the tampon’. I said, ‘So that you squeeze your muscles’. And I said, ‘And when you go and pee’, I said, ‘You know, you hold for five seconds or ten seconds’.

And I said, ‘And then release slowly’ I said, and she sort of looked at me and she went. (facial expression) She was horrified, horrified. And my aunt came out of her place and she comes over and she goes, ‘I just heard that conversation. How dare you have that conversation with grandma?’ And like, ‘What are you doing?’

And I was like, ‘What? As women, we should be talking about that at all different ages’, She said ‘But we talk about that, but not her’. And like, because my grandmother grew up in the Torres Strait, you know, and like so this is a woman who.. and she grew up in initiation and strict culture and cultural beliefs and understandings.

Like, like I said, she didn't even know what the word tampon was, and I didn't know an English word for the word tampon. So it was interesting having those conversations. A year later, my grandmother said to me, ‘What do I have to do again?’ See? That's all I can say. But she did it in the garden.

Moo Baulch: That should be the last word because there's a red light flashing at us here. But we're, we're boundary pushes on this stage and we have been given permission to go a little bit over time. I hope that's okay. So please, you can have the last question.

Audience 4: Thank you. I just want to say thank you so much just for hosting this very amazing talk. You've been you talked so adequately and you've inspired all of us here. I just have a question, just about consent, just furthering what you were saying Vanessa, but how can we teach consent? That is actually that is culturally appropriate to prevent, sexual and domestic abuse and criminal behaviour in remote communities.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: I think I think it comes back to what Angela was saying, about, you know, having the conversation because again, and in this research project that we did, there was no based on data. So it was about having that conversation across communities and, you know, igniting, igniting something that wasn't usually talked about: sexual violence and consent. And it comes back to what you've written in your book about, I haven't read your whole book.

Chanel Contos: That’s ok.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: Not yet. No. But it's and I think teaching across cultures is about understanding who people are, where you, where they come from, what is their language group. But I don't think that you can just walk out there and have that conversation, like, you need to be able to understand what you're doing and have that passion. Like, when you haven't read her book, Chanel's book Chanel… If you haven't read her book, have a look, because I'm giving her a good plug because..

Chanel Contos: Yeah thanks

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: …the way it's written is actually quite nice.

Chanel Contos: (Laughs) Surprisingly.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: Yeah it is, you’ll understand…  It's written across different levels. That's why I like the book and I still haven't finished it. I only bought it yesterday. But to answer your question, talking across cultures, I think it's about understanding the cultural group you're going to understanding. What is that level of like this, you understand, like I have like I understand the impact of colonisation on my people. And I looked at that in my PhD many years ago and understanding the levels of education and communication.

And but at the same time, I bring my understanding of culture. And I was taught my culture from my grandmother. So these are all other pieces that come together. So when you have those conversations, it maybe as a country, maybe as a university, it's about getting that… asking people like, how would you say it in your culture?

How would you do this with your family? Having those simple conversations with people first and foremost. Before we go, let's do legislation. Let's do a whatever, like let's just start. Yeah, let's just start and like because that's what that's what we just need to do as, as a people, as a people to start.

Did I answer your question?

Audience 4: You did thank you.

Moo Baulch: Thank you for that question. It sounds as if it is time.. a huge thank you to all three of you. I reckon we could have kept that, kept going for another hour and a half. You know, we have longer next time, please? Thank you. I just wanted to finish, and this is something that Vanessa you prompted me to do the other day. I'd like to finish by acknowledging, thanking the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we've had this really important conversation. We know that violence was never a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures…

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: It was here, it was, but it was handled differently.

Moo Baulch: Yep.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: Yeah, and I think that's important to remember because it was there, but it was just handled differently.

Moo Baulch: There are other ways of doing this, right?

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat: That's right.

Moo Baulch: A huge thank you to all three of you. Please join me in thanking you.

UNSW Centre for Ideas: Thanks for listening. For more information visit, and don't forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Moo Baulch

Moo Baulch

Moo Baulch (she/they) has been working in gender-based violence prevention with a focus on human rights social inclusion and peace in Australia, UK, Spain and South East Asia for more than 20 years. Moo led peak body Domestic Violence NSW through an era of significant change amidst growing public interest in the issue of gender-based violence from 2014–19.   

In 2020 as Head of Customer Vulnerability at Commbank, Moo helped develop the first trauma-informed customer support team in an Australian financial institution and continues to provide advice on the development of Commbank’s Next Chapter financial abuse initiatives. In May 2022 Moo was appointed chair of Our Watch, the national prevention of violence against women organisation and is Director of Primary Prevention at Women’s and Girls’ Emergency Centre (WAGEC). Moo speaks fluent Spanish, is a proud queer parent to two young children and lives on stolen Gadigal land.

Image of Chanel Contos

Chanel Contos

Chanel Contos (she/her) founded Teach Us Consent, a campaign that mandated consent education in Australia. In order to achieve this, she worked closely with politicians from across the political spectrum, including prime ministers. Chanel was the recipient of the Australian Human Rights Commission Young People’s Medal in 2021, and in 2023 she was named NSW Young Woman of the Year for her persistent efforts towards eradicating rape culture. Chanel has also been presented with the prestigious Diana Award for her humanitarian work, and in 2022 she was listed as one of the BBC’s 100 inspiring and influential women worldwide. Chanel has a Masters in Education, Gender and International Development from University College London and was recently appointed by Julia Gillard to chair the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership’s Youth Advisory Committee. In 2023, she published her first book with Macmillan Australia, Consent Laid Bare, described by Marie Claire as “a blistering, unflinching – and therefore sometimes uncomfortable – look at Australia’s rape culture”. 

Angela Griffin

Angela Griffin

Angela Griffin (she/her) is a Research Assistant at the Gendered Violence Research Network, UNSW Sydney. Angela has previously worked as a student activist agitating within university contexts – as well as outside – to end sexual violence on campuses and more broadly. In 2018 she served as UNSW’s Women’s Officer and in 2019 as SRC President. Before that she was on the Executive Team of the Reclaim the Night Sydney Rally. In 2021 she completed her Bachelor of Social Research & Policy (Honours First Class). As part of this degree, she completed a thesis exploring student activist experiences of their universities implementation of the recommendations included in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2017 ‘Change the Course’ report. In February 2023 Angela commenced a PhD exploring alternative, non-punitive pathways for universities to facilitate justice for victim-survivors of sexual violence.

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat

Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat

Dr Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat, a First Nations Woman by genealogy, has qualifications that include a PhD, MPH, BTD and 25 plus years of experience spanning a multifaceted career, and is the CEO and Founder of Black Lorikeet Cultural Broker Management Consultant. Vanessa believes that by economically empowering Indigenous society, via culturally equitable business models, will contribute to self-determination and in turn reduce suicides. Having over 25 years experience leading cross-sectorial partnerships, Vanessa knows how to translate across cultures to ensure balanced negotiations from the grass roots to the highest level of business, politicians, and all in between. In her cultural brokering position coupled with her research area of expertise, Dr Lee-Ah Mat is the First Nations lead for the First National LGBT+ Sistergirls and Brotherboys experiences with sexual violence survey, administered by the Gendered Violence Research Network. Recently, Vanessa applied her cultural brokering expertise to Walking Between Worlds to amplify Indigenous art through NFT’s by working with 4 First Nations artists to create the world’s first genuine generative collection. 

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