These young women are changing how we learn about and teach sexual consent

Dr Joyce Yu and Angelique Wan, the co-founders of Consent Labs. Source: Supplied

Five years ago, Dr Joyce Yu and Angelique Wan co-founded Consent Labs after reflecting on the significant gaps in their high school sex education.

In the words of Coach Carr from Mean Girls, “don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die”.

While their sex education wasn't as dire as that iconic movie scene, for Dr Joyce Yu and Angelique Wan, their high school lessons still left much to be desired.

“We loved our school, our school was great, but the sex ed that we received was just so anatomical,”  Angelique told The Feed.

“I just remember videos of cartoons about sex and ‘this is how to not get pregnant’ and a bit about STIs,” Joyce added.

“Missing from the conversation was, obviously, language around consent.”

Almost two million Australians adults have experienced sexual assault by the age of 15, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics

Of the women who've experienced sexual assault, half did not seek advice or support about their "most recent" experience, ABS data shows.

After reflecting on the gaps in their own sex education, Joyce and Angelique decide to co-found 'Consent Labs’, a youth-led organisation that centres around sexual consent. 

Consent Labs prides itself on being youth-led and aims to be as inclusive and diverse as possible.

The organisation has been running for close to five years, and in Angelique’s words, it provides teachers, parents and students with “the sex-ed we wish we had gotten in high school.”

There’s been a renewed focus on issues of consent after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, and three other women, made allegations of sexual assault and harassment against a senior Liberal staffer.

Chanel Contos, a former all-girls high school student, weighed in on the national conversation, sharing an anonymous Instagram poll about sexual assault. 

After uploading the poll, Chanel received more than 300 responses, with 72 per cent of respondents claiming they'd experienced sexual assault.

The overwhelming response motivated Chanel to launch a petition calling for consent to be taught at a younger age.

Since then, more than 2,000 women and girls, some as young as 13, have come forward with their experiences of sexual assault and rape at different schools across Australia.

In an interview with triple j Hack, NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the state has incorporated consent into its curriculum since 2018.

“That starts from kindergarten in NSW,” Ms Mitchell said. 

“Consent is now much more explicit in our… curriculum, we’re making sure schools have the resources to have these conservations with students,” she added.

Angelique and Joyce agree that concepts around consent should be taught at a young age.

“We use consent on a daily basis, right? Like, you ask your friend, do you want to take a picture with me? Or do you mind if I borrow your jeans?” Angelique said.

“I think that's how you can introduce consent to people from a primary school age and then in high school, you can start to contextualise it in a sexual setting.”

However, the co-founders said while including consent in the curriculum is a good first step, there are still significant issues that need to be addressed.

Angelique believes students may feel more comfortable speaking to those from an external program rather than teachers they see “around campus every day.”

“We need to be consistently receiving good quality sex education across NSW and across the country,” she said.

Consent Labs offers lessons on the basics of consent language, the intersection between alcohol and other drugs, identifying sexual harassment and how to report and respond to non-consensual situations. 

“Consent isn’t a topic that should be touched on once,” Joyce told The Feed.

“There's a lot that needs to be done from a bystander point of view. So how can you, no matter what your gender is, be a good friend to someone who discloses to you, so that they don't feel shame and they feel that they're supported?” she said.

“We're just so incredibly passionate about conversations around consent and making sure kids receive the sex ed that we wish we had gotten back when we were in high school," Angelique added.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.