From the Head Master

During the course of this week, the issue of consent with reference to sexual interaction has continued to be a focus of consideration and discussion from the corridors of power in Parliament House to the classrooms and assemblies of schools. This is an issue that needs our attention.

As I wrote to families on Monday, the disturbing issues that are being raised are complex. Consent, with reference to young people as illustrated in the recent publication of stories, is overlapped by other issues, including alcohol, pornography, entitlement, single-sex education, and wider cultural issues. These are all issues with which we already wrestle, and we will need to continue to do so in our quest to shape decent, trustworthy and respectful young men.

During the course of this week, staff at Trinity have conducted an audit of the ways in which the topic of consent, and other related topics, are covered at Trinity. Consent is explicitly taught to the boys through the PDHPE syllabus in Years 9 and 10, as well as in our Christian Studies classes in Years 10 and 12. The boys also engage with this topic in the Young Men’s Seminar with David Kobler, who conducts sessions with the Year 9 boys in Term 3, as well as running an evening session for parents.

This explicit teaching about consent builds on foundations of teaching and inculcating respectful behaviour, which take place in and through every aspect of the School from the early years until the end. It is my observation, and that of many others, that Trinity boys are often characterised by respectful behaviour in their interactions with others. We will need to ensure that they make the connection between respect in a general sense, and its application to the specific context of consent.

The last week has seen the publication of a number of insightful and powerful articles published with reference to the revelations over the weekend. These include: a piece by the Principal of Wenona School that challenges us to face the reality that this issue for school students is a wider cultural issue; a powerful speech delivered to Cranbrook students by the Head Prefect, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald; and a piece reflecting on the experiences of an external speaker who educates students about consent. If you are interested in thinking further about these issues, I commend these articles to you, as well as Mr Barr’s piece on pornography in this Bulletin.

However, there is one issue that arises from the collected testimonies of these young women that has not yet come under the spotlight but which looms large in the situation. That is the role of some parents in enabling sexual assault.

The majority of the harrowing stories that were recounted online took place at parties or gatherings. These appear to be large parties that take place in family homes, that involve copious amounts of alcohol and intoxication, that provide access to secluded spaces, and which appear not to have active parental supervision. According to these stories, parties of this sort appear to be provided for people who are significantly underage, both with reference to alcohol and sex.

In hosting a party of this sort, parents end up creating an environment that enables sexual assault. This is not a statement I make lightly, and I recognise that the statement will cause offence, but I believe the conclusion is inescapable.

I can think of fewer more dangerous, unhelpful and foolish things that a parent could do than to provide a party of the sort described above. These parties cause heart-breaking and life-breaking damage.

I have heard it said that parties of this sort are a necessary rite of passage, and that they will happen anyway. I disagree. They are certainly a cultural phenomenon, but I think that in the interests of our young people’s wellbeing, we need to challenge the culture.

I know that I have the support of many of our families in this matter. Anecdotally, I think that fewer of these parties take place in the context of our School community than might be the case elsewhere. I am certainly not opposed to young people getting together to socialise and have fun. There are resources available online to assist parents to think through how best to host parties. You might like to check out this information sheet from Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia, or the website of Party Safe.  

I do not raise this issue as an exercise in blame-shifting or to downplay the importance of how schools address the issue of consent. Trinity will continue to do all that we can to support parents in raising young men of whom we can be proud. However, unless we address the role of these sort of parties, young people will continue to damage themselves and one another.

Detur Gloria Soli Deo.

Tim Bowden | Head Master

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