Education is one of the key settings for primary prevention activity. The respectful relationships education program is the largest scale primary prevention initiative being implemented in Victorian schools and early childhood services.
A Whole-of-School Approach
In 2016, respectful relationships education was introduced as a mandatory component of the Victorian curriculum from Foundation to Year 12 in all state and Catholic schools. It seeks to embed a culture of respect and equality through the entire school and education system to support attitudinal and behavioural change in children and young people, as well as parents, staff and the wider community. This holistic approach to respectful relationships in schools is called a ‘whole-of-school’ approach.
A range of research has shown that education programs around respect and equality are most effective when these values are also modelled at home and in the broader community.
A whole-of-school approach to respectful relationships means that schools are viewed as not only a place where children and young people are educated but also as a workplace and community. It supports schools to implement cultural and procedural change, so that respectful relationships and equality are discussed and demonstrated not only in the classroom, but also in school events, sports programs, community engagement and workplace policies and procedures.
In 2022 the Victorian Government passed new laws that reframe the way that the Victorian legal system defines consent. These laws follow the affirmative consent model, with the principle that consent to an act of sexual activity is not to be assumed: consent involves ongoing and mutual communication and decision making between each person involved. This reinforces that assumptions have no place in consent or sexual assault trials – consent can only be given based on a person’s clear communication of their willingness, and that consent is not a ‘one-off’ conversation.
To support the implementation of these reforms, Safe and Equal has joined with Sexual Assault Services Victoria and the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria to deliver a support and capability development to a number of not-for-profit and community health organisations across the state, who are providing programs to support young people in a range of out-of-school settings to understand affirmative consent and give them the tools to form healthy and respectful relationships. Affirmative consent education will also be incorporated into the respectful relationships curriculum.
For more information on the whole-of-school approach, affirmative consent education and resources to support respectful relationships education, visit the Department of Education at https://www.vic.gov.au/respectful-relationships.