Chanel Contos on the fight for consent education

Thursday 4 April 2024

We're delighted so excited to be launching a brand new season of A Podcast of One's Own, a podcast created by the team at GIWL and hosted by our Founder and Chair, Julia Gillard!

We’re kicking off this season with trailblazing activist, author, and sexual consent champion, Chanel Contos.

In this episode, Julia sits down with Chanel to discuss her journey in advocating for consent education in Australia, starting from exposing sexual assault in Sydney private schools to sparking a national movement for consent education in schools. Chanel shares her insights on misogyny, rape culture, the challenges of reporting sexual assault, and the need for alternative justice options. The episode also touches on the importance of empowering young people, addressing systemic issues, and finding hope in a world with complex challenges.


Who is Chanel Contos?

Today we know Chanel as the Founder of Teach us Consent, and the Chair of our Youth Committee – but how did she get to where she is today?

At just 22 years old, Chanel Contos has emerged as a powerful voice for her generation, championing the cause of sexual consent education in Australia. In 2021, Chanel sparked a national media storm when she exposed the alarming level of sexual assault in Sydney private schools, igniting a movement that would lead to fundamental changes in the Australian curriculum.

The Teach Us Consent campaign, born from Chanel's efforts, quickly gained over 44,000 signatures and was supported by more than 6,500 testimonies of sexual assault. Just a year later, this groundbreaking campaign resulted in the introduction of holistic and age-appropriate consent education in every school across Australia, a significant victory in the fight for gender equality and safer learning environments.


Recognising the systemic challenges faced by young women

Chanel's journey in activism began at a young age, as she noticed the distinct differences in the way boys and girls were treated. From the seemingly small expectations and norms within her own household to the broader societal threats that girls faced, Chanel has always been acutely aware of the inherent inequalities.

"I've forever modified my behaviour in different ways in the presence of men in order to mitigate that, which is why it's so hard to answer because it's just been there forever," Chanel reflects, highlighting the pervasive nature of the challenges young women face.


Turning trauma into transformative action

The pivotal moment that propelled Chanel into activism was when she and her friends realised the alarming prevalence of sexual assault among their peers. Sharing their own experiences and those of their friends, Chanel was confronted with the harsh reality that these acts of violence were not isolated incidents, but rather a systemic problem.

"It was kind of just like mind blowing because these acts that were being described were things that we had all either seen or that had happened to us or that it to, you know, one of our literal best friends," Chanel recounts.

Determined to enact change, Chanel began collecting testimonies, ultimately amassing thousands of stories that shone a light on the deeply entrenched rape culture within Sydney's private school system.


Redefining consent and challenging societal attitudes

Chanel's new book, Consent Laid Bare delves into the nuanced and often misunderstood concept of consent. Drawing on her extensive research and personal experiences, Chanel offers a powerful redefinition of consent, emphasising the importance of "feeling together" rather than just "agreeing to do something."

This holistic understanding of consent challenges the prevalent societal attitudes that enable the perpetuation of sexual violence. Chanel's work highlights the critical need to shift the balance between empathy and entitlement, ensuring that the wellbeing and autonomy of individuals, particularly women and girls, are prioritised.


Navigating the complexities of activism and public scrutiny

Chanel's journey as a prominent activist has not been without its challenges. The sheer volume of testimonies she received, coupled with the trauma of reading detailed accounts of sexual assault, took a significant emotional toll. Additionally, Chanel has faced the harsh realities of public scrutiny, including disturbing social media comments and threats.

However, Chanel's resilience and determination have been unwavering. She has remained steadfast in her mission, using her platform to amplify the voices of victims and drive meaningful change.


Inspiring a new generation of feminist leaders

Chanel's work has not only sparked a national conversation but has also inspired a new generation of feminist leaders. Through her involvement with the Global Institute for Women's Leadership at the Australian National University, Chanel has collaborated with a diverse group of young activists, sharing her insights and fostering a sense of community and collective action.

"Seeing it be successful and happen all the time, that gives me hope," Chanel says, reflecting on the power of grassroots movements and the potential for young people to create lasting change.

As Chanel continues to push for a future where consent, empathy, and gender equality are the foundations of our society, her story stands as a testament to the transformative impact that can be achieved when one person dares to challenge the status quo.


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Updated:  2 May 2024/Responsible Officer:  Institute Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications