Volume 19, Issue 7
*** content warning: sexual assault ***
The federal government’s consent training video “moving the line” has been taken down after public backlash. The video aimed at year 10-12 students was ridiculed for a number of reasons, but mostly for insulting the intelligence of every human on the planet.
“The Good Society” is a website created as part of the Australian Government’s “Respect Matters” program. The initiative is funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and aims to teach school-aged children the importance of respecting others in all aspects of life.
The video in question is a part of “The Field Model” program (FM), a series introducing year 10-12 students to the notion of consent in their personal relationships. The FM covers a lot of ground and originally included four videos: “Stop, Ask, Listen”, “Yes, No, I Don’t Know!”, “Moving the Line”, and “Stepping In”. As of today only the first and last videos are available, “Yes, No, I Don’t Know!” was apparently taken down long ago for being even more ridiculous than “Moving the Line”.
The Video – “Moving the Line”
I must say, after seeing the many memes about Scotty’s absolute disaster of a government-approved educational video, I thought “surely it’s not that bad…”. I was wrong. It was bad. If you’d like to see it for yourself, one humble YouTuber, username MininCrafter, managed to upload the entire five minute video before Mr Morrison tried to erase the Godforsaken thing from living memory. If you’d rather not melt your eyes, essentially a young couple is shown drinking milkshakes before the girl proceeds to defy the laws of physics by grabbing a handful of milk and smearing it on her boyfriend’s face. The rest of the video uses the analogy to talk about when an abusive partner “moves the line” of consent and ignores your “no”.
So what’s wrong?
There are a number of things that this video does wrong. I’ll be touching on just one issue that I think is particularly noteworthy. The issue I have picked is the way the government has managed to reinforce the underlying harmful beliefs that they are trying to prevent, while simultaneously dumbing down the severity of sexual assault.
Before I continue, I’d like to say that I will not tolerate any smack talk about the acting. Those unfortunate souls did the best they could with the milky mess they were given. I should also note that the series itself isn’t just about unwanted sexual advances. In later modules it goes on to cover a number of different scenarios couples face, such as spending each other's money or respecting when your partner really does not want to watch The Bee Movie for a fifth time. They confront these issues head on and have some rather uncomfortable scenarios acted out for the camera. To me this just makes the milkshake analogy all the weirder. Splatting a milkshake on your partner’s face, a ‘minor’ incident, is a very far cry from unwanted intercourse.
How did this get past the drawing board?
The video says that sometimes when a partner ‘moves the line’, that is ignores your ‘no’ in favour of their ‘yes’, you might not mind when it happens once, but start to get upset after a number of minor incidents. It says that the growing number of minor incidents or one serious incident might make you question your partner’s intentions and want to confront them about your issues with their behaviour. Ideally you both mend the problems in the relationship.
On the surface this seems like a good message to be giving, but the implication seems to be that if you’re not upset about a ‘minor’ incident, you don’t need to address the underlying attitude. It’s saying that there’s no real problem to address unless the other person has crossed a major boundary, or crossed less significant boundaries repeatedly. This is precisely the problematic attitude we as a community feed each other over and over again. We pass off ‘minor’ incidents, for instance someone splashing their milkshake on your face, as no big deal, just a joke, nothing to kick up a fuss about, no harm done. But this mentality tells people that ignoring someone else’s ‘no’ is fine if you have decided your actions don’t constitute crossing a boundary. In actuality, one small incident, left unaddressed, turns into more and more uncomfortable occasions until you’re left with someone who is so confident in their entitlement to their own ‘yes’ that they completely ignore someone else’s right to say ‘no’. By telling teenagers they don’t need to worry about troubling behaviour until after it becomes a problem, many will go from unhooking someone’s bra at lunch time (which isn’t a very good party trick, Cameron) to sexually assaulting a stranger at a party. Assuring teenagers that non-consensual behaviour is sometimes fine is a pretty terrible way to go about teaching consent.
It should really go without saying that refusing to allude to anything remotely sexual in a video designed to educate teens about consent in sexual relationships is a bit pathetic. I don’t know about you, but when I was in year 12 I knew girls who were taking Plan B for the fourth time and boys fighting over which of them could make it a fifth. So not only does the video completely ignore the reality many teenagers have already experienced, as well as subtly reinforcing problematic beliefs, it also makes fun of teenage behaviour in the worst ways possible. Boys will be boys, am I right fellas. For example, the guy getting milk-shaked is constantly painted as the victim of his girlfriend. I’m sure this was pitched as a way to put high school boys in the shoes of a victim seeing as girls tend to make up the majority of sexual abuse survivors, but it just feels like they’ve doubled down on the crazy-immature-teenage-girlfriend trope. This dynamic is reinforced again in the aforementioned movie-watching scenario where it’s the girlfriend pressuring the boy into watching what she wants. I can just hear the “she must have been on her period” comments echoing from the back of my weekly high school assembly. Once again, if the aim is to change teen’s attitudes around respecting each other, probably a shit idea to reinforce all of the negative stereotypes that numbs their caution towards crossing consent boundaries.
Well, that’s all I have time for for now. If the goal was to miss the mark, ScoMo kicked it for six. Thankfully for all of us, this content won’t be inflicted on teenagers as a legitimate learning tool any time soon.
I must mention one genuinely good thing to come of this FM training module. The final video, “Stepping In”, offers some practical steps teens can take to helping someone they suspect is being harassed. It manages to throw some humour into an otherwise serious tone and gave me my own ideas about how to help someone who might be in need. I hope the teens watching it are empowered to use their own ideas too.
Rebecca is a third year JD student
The views in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of De Minimis or its Editor