Why teaching respect and consent is a matter of urgency

It's not yet two weeks into 2021 and already the headlines are peppered with sordid stories about elite sportsmen behaving badly.

Bringing in the new year was the behaviour of NRL player Mitchell Pearce, who was caught out sending inappropriate messages to a young female staff member. While this alone may not be an issue, the content of the messages was enough that his wedding the following week was hastily called off.

Pearce has a sad and sorry history of inappropriate behaviour, the most infamous was from January 2016 when he was filmed simulating having sex with a dog. Drunkenness as an excuse for poor choices is well past its use-by date.

We recently saw the rape trials of both Jarryd Hayne and Jack de Belin, end in a hung jury and retrials for these offences set down for later in 2021.

Boys behaving badly is not new. Media headlines have for years reported the poor and sometimes criminal choices of elite sportsmen, often fuelled by testosterone and a sense of entitlement.

 

Considering these young men come from a cross-section of the community, we should expect to see a similar cross-section of poor behaviour from them, but the difference with these young men is that they are feted, surrounded by those who enable the behaviour by their silence and where all manner of poor choices are overlooked and brushed aside.

Talented as they may be at sport, they often seem devoid of a moral compass, despite the huge amount of effort and money invested in them.

Whether they like it or not, they will be held to a higher standard of behaviour than John Citizen. They are worshipped as role models for the next generation of aspiring sportsmen, but some are failing themselves, their clubs and their sports.

It is a sad reflection on society that we need to teach young men about respect, about what constitutes acceptable behaviour towards women and how to conduct themselves both on and offline. How is it that their upbringing, their school and sport education, was so lacking that they formed the opinion that their appalling behaviour choices were somehow acceptable?

Despite the rhetoric that things are changing and that players are provided with this type of education and more, whatever the clubs are currently doing it is failing to get through to some players. These issues need external experts in their field, not in-house personnel, to have maximum effect.

There is still the element of "boys will be boys" and the sordid headlines are, in the locker room, laughed about and sometimes celebrated.

Former rugby league player Jarryd Hayne has been on trial over allegations of sexual assault. Picture: Peter Lorimer
Former rugby league player Jarryd Hayne has been on trial over allegations of sexual assault. Picture: Peter Lorimer

Several years ago when I was asked to assist a club where a player had got themselves into trouble online via the sharing of nude images and explicit videos, the message from the leadership group was to make a joke of it and suggest to the player that next time to make sure he did not get caught.

Last year, the coach of a junior AFL team told a player that had filmed and shared an intimate image of a young female that he should, "Keep your head down, mate, and it will blow over."

It is examples such as these that show just how far from reality some clubs and players are. Unless those in positions of leadership and authority, take a stand and call out sexist, harassing and criminal behaviour and adopt a zero-tolerance approach, nothing will change.

Unless impressionable young men see real and significant consequences for their actions, and young women see that by coming forward with a complaint they will be taken

seriously, the behaviours will continue. Over the past few days, there has been a steady stream of young women coming forward to complain about the alleged behaviour of Hawthorn player Jonathon Patton.

 

A steady stream of young women have come forward to complain about the alleged behaviour of Hawthorn player Jonathon Patton. Picture: AAP
A steady stream of young women have come forward to complain about the alleged behaviour of Hawthorn player Jonathon Patton. Picture: AAP

The allegations follow a similar pattern: an online interaction with a female where the conversation quickly moves to sex, then Patton sending explicit images and videos.

Where was the consideration for these women? The women claim they did not ask for, or intimate, an interest in receiving these types of images/videos, nor did they reciprocate.

In my work with teens, not a week goes by without one or more young women coming forward seeking advice on how to deal with this type of sexual harassment. Sadly, this is common, starting in the early years of secondary school yet most of the girls are accepting that this is simply how things are online; how boys behave.

That they must tolerate being bombarded with d--- pics and sexual conversations. They are called names if they complain or ignore the advance.

While it is vital that we empower young women to have a voice, to speak up and report all instances of disrespectful behaviour directed at them, it should not solely be their responsibility to sort out the mess.

Young men, and I most certainly do not mean all, must be taught about respectful relationships and consent as a matter of urgency.

The unsolicited sending of nudes can be a criminal offence and young women should not believe that such behaviour is normal, acceptable and accepted.

Susan McLean is a cybersafety expert and educator, and former police officer of 27 years

Originally published as Why teaching respect and consent is a matter of urgency


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