Among her peers, sexual assault and harassment are everyday occurrences, writes high school student Nevada Wolfgramm. It’s about time our education system stopped tip-toeing around it.
Among my friends, sexual assault and sexual harassment is talked about as if it’s a completely normal thing. It’s rare for me to talk to a girl who hasn’t been harassed for explicit photos, touched without consent or even raped, and it’s treated as an everyday occurrence because it is. So why is our consent education still failing to catch up to this reality?
Nothing taught in school has prepared me for the amount of uncomfortable stares, unwanted advances or even the extreme verbal assault that would come with moving through the world. Being groped at parties and even at school events is a regular coming-of-age experience for most teen girls. We have all encountered that sad excuse for a drunk teenage boy who, instead of asking before touching, just takes a chance and grabs.
Instead of acknowledging these realities, my school dances around the subject as if it’s taboo, as if almost every girl in that classroom hasn’t been sexually harassed and/or assaulted in some way. They don’t hand out pepper spray, they don’t teach self defence, they don’t treat it as if it’s a very real problem but instead, a distant issue. To teach consent, school showed us a video about tea – because it’s not nice having tea shoved down your throat, right?
The whole video seemed so ridiculous I found myself laughing. But in the real world, in the real context of what this video actually relates to, it is not funny. If consent was that easy to teach, if consent could be explained in a short video about tea, then maybe we wouldn’t have so many rapists.
As a girl in high school, you can only hope it doesn’t happen to you, but we need more than hope. Why are schools still turning a blind eye? Why do they choose to ignore the problem instead of facing it head on? It should be a topic that’s talked about for more than one period in health class, it should be brought up well before the one-day course in year 12 because, by that point, almost every single girl would’ve been harassed or assaulted in one way or another.
By 16, I already knew everything they covered in that course because I had to live through it with absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. At 15, I thought I was alone because abuse and assault was never mentioned at school. Now, as an outspoken 17-year-old girl, trying to learn how to function as a feminist in a man’s world is an eye-opening, disappointing experience. I live in a town that’s like a bubble, a picture-perfect place filled with people who would rather shove things under the rug than acknowledge the fact there’s a huge problem with the boys we are raising.
Although the high level of assault and abuse recorded in the Christchurch Girls’ High sexual harassment survey last month might be shocking to some, this, unfortunately, is the reality of our world. The statistics need to be brought into classrooms. Over half of the 725 Christchurch Girls students responding to the survey said they had experienced sexual harassment. It needs to be treated as if it’s the momentous matter that it is. We need to acknowledge the fact that men make up most of the problem.
The obvious first thought of someone who hasn’t experienced this for themselves might be to question why you wouldn’t just go to the police. It really isn’t that easy. For many, the thought of having to go through the process of court is too much to bear. With only 10 out of 100 cases being reported, only three making it to court and one getting convicted, the odds are most definitely not in our favour. Schools are so focused on training kids to be good non-rule-breaking individuals who do as they’re asked that they can’t acknowledge there is in fact something very wrong with the justice system and it needs to be talked about.
In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be up to the victims to learn how to protect themselves but instead up to the teachers and parents to educate their students and children and stop the problem before it starts. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be taught through our education system that our bodies should be hidden so men aren’t tempted by us. But it isn’t a perfect world, and we’re going to need more than a video about tea to fix it.