Words by: Nelly Thomas
Health Ambassador: Jeans Hailes for Women’s Health
I am a comedian. I have no business whatsoever talking to you about sexual assault. However, a strange thing happened to me over a decade ago – the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne asked me to help them with their sex-ed program for teens. They said it wasn’t working because it was a bit too… boring. I worked with them to take the health messages and jazz them up with some jokes, songs and other stuff. The kids lapped it up.
These days I’m often asked to go and speak at schools and health events about sex. It’s a strange calling, but when you think about it most comedy is about “unmentionables” so it makes sense. I presented at one such forum last year – a health forum for students from Leongatha Secondary College put on by Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault (GCASA). They had VICPOL SOCIT (Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigative Team) E Crime specialist there to talk cyber-safety, I was there to talk safe sex and respect, Tom Harkin from ABC Man Up series (2016) to talk support, respect and relationships, and there were a range of professionals including GCASA counsellors, a sexual health nurse and a police officer (who specialises in sexual crimes). It was a huge success.
The title of this article is meant to mimic the “click-bait” you often see in the media about rape. There’s “Opinion Pieces” (NB: not expert pieces) on this stuff being spewed out daily. These articles and blogs range from suggesting a ban on all access to the internet, to not letting girls out past 7pm to removing condoms from Chemist Warehouse. Anyone – and I mean anyone – with any credibility in this field, will tell you that while these strategies may make you feel better, they do NOT WORK.
People – boys and girls, men and women – are sexually assaulted daily and, unfortunately, have been since before the internet, before condoms and frequently, during the day by someone they know. There is no correlation to the time of day and rape. Banning condoms doesn’t mean teenagers don’t have sex, it means they have sex without condoms. Women and girls wearing everything from bikinis to Burqas are raped, as are boys and men. The horrifying truth is that there is no way to protect our kids from sexual assault – the only thing we can do is make sure they know their rights, their responsibilities and where they can get help if they need it.
In short, we all need to be talking more about sex.
If young people know that they can talk about sex, they won’t need to learn from the Internet (the horror!) or the school yard (even worse!).
They will also learn what is appropriate and not, what’s respectful and not and most critically, that if they are sexually assaulted it is NOT THEIR FAULT and they can get help.
Events like those GCASA put on for Leongatha Secondary last year – and which they are planning to repeat – offer young people a healthy perspective on sex: it is normal, natural and wonderful to have sexual feelings, but you must also know how to behave with kindness and respect. Everyone deserves kindness and respect.
The giant banana-penis I bring along helps, but the real work is done in the talking – the best way to protect your kids from sexual assault is through more talking.