Australian govt's 'bizarre' sex ed campaign faces heat from gender rights group

The Australian government's new sex education campaign has came under fire for using metaphors such as smearing milkshake on someone's face to depict consent and abuse. The campaign includes a series of informational videos posted on the online educational portal The Good Society, and has copped flak for being too confusing without addressing the problem of sexual consent and abuse directly. The Good Society, an online resource for teaching respectful relationships education in Australian schools and is a key part of the Australian government's Respect Matters programme. The website contains playlists of media content, videos, animations, podcasts, stories, slides, PDFs, and web pages that can be viewed in the classroom or assigned to students for individual study.

In one of the videos titled "Moving the Line" seen by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, a male and female character were sitting down drinking milkshake, when the female character offers her milkshake to the male character. When the male character tells her that he prefers his own milkshake, the female character used her hands to scoop up her milkshake and smeared it all over his face. At the end of the video, the female character said gleefully: "It's just a funny game. I know you really like my milkshake." The video then proceeds to show how someone can "move the line" and go impose their decision upon others without their consent. 

According to multiple media outlets including BBC, some other videos that touch on the topic of consent and respecting others' decisions include examples of a woman being apprehensive about swimming in a beach because of sharks and a man convincing her to get in the water, and using other food items such as pizza and tacos to demonstrate the importance of consent and respect.

The campaign has caught the attention of gender equality group Fair Agenda, which drew up a petition for the government to review the series of videos. In its call for petition, the group said young people deserve consent and respectful relationships training that practically and explicitly helps them understand how to ethically navigate relationships, as well as to recognise and feel armed to challenge unacceptable or coercive behaviour.

"Instead, the government has unveiled concerning and bizarre online resources that include videos about milkshakes, tacos and an ocean that might be filled with sharks. These materials fall well short of what experts know is needed to actually change behaviour and prevent abuse."

Fair Agenda's petition, which has seen 1,247 signatures at the time of writing, calls for the government to engage violence prevention experts to replace the consent modules and revise the entire Good Society website to ensure "it actually works" to promote respectful relationships and prevent violence. It also calls the government also needs to invest in experts to train those it is asking to act as educators and voices of authority on consent and respectful relationships. 

"Doing sexual consent work with students who have experienced sexual violence without first ensuring safety for survivors and engaging in challenging victim-blaming discussions can do immeasurable harm. Educators need to be properly trained, and armed to deliver effective content," Fair Agenda's statement added.

Besides drawing the ire of the gender equality group, the videos on The Good Society also did not sit well with netizens. One particular netizen expressed her confusion and questioned who scripted it, while another suggested that an ad agency be engaged to succinctly bring across the points the government wishes to make. 

Meanwhile, another netizen said the government could have directly addressed the problem by using the term "sex". "Surely you would think that when trying to stop people from committing rape and sexual assault, we could just use the words," she added. 

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