Drawing The Line on Sexual Violence in Ontario Webinar Blog
Teachers serve many roles in a school community. They are in a position to shape how students learn, and provide support in setting them up for success to be responsible, reflective, and independent thinkers. As role models and mentors to students, teachers also play a critical role in helping to form students’ attitudes and behaviors connected to making healthy and active choices throughout their lives. Within the Health and Physical Education curriculum, teachers have the ability to help students build an understanding of consent as well as recognize the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships.
On March 3rd 2021, Ophea partnered with the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) and delivered a webinar for grades 7-12 teachers to discuss the use of education for sexual violence prevention. The session made connections to the Health and Physical Education curricula, while providing planning and teaching considerations to support teachers in initiating and continuing conversations in safe and supportive environments for all learners.
This session was funded by the Government of Ontario in connection with Ophea’s Sexual Violence Prevention Education Resources initiative, and we would like to thank the Ontario Coalition for Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) for their partnership on this webinar, as well as our co-presenters:
- Roslyn Deisinger is a gender-based sexual violence prevention educator with the OCRCC as their Draw the Line Campaign Coordinator.
- Andrea Haefele is a Health and Physical Education teacher in the York Region District School Board and currently seconded as a curriculum consultant with Ophea.
- Robin MacDonald is a Health and Physical Education and Special Education Specialist teacher in the Near North District School Board and an Ophea Ambassador.
Setting the Stage and Duty to Report
“The Healthy Living strand helps students develop an understanding of the factors that contribute to healthy development, a sense of personal responsibility for lifelong health, and a respect for their own health in relation to others and the world around them.” 1
- What does consent mean in real life situations?
- When does it become the violation of consent and invasion of privacy?
- How do we engage students in a healthy dialogue about gender-based sexual violence?
“Some topics within the Healthy Living strand need to be approached with additional sensitivity, care and awareness because of their personal nature and their connection to family values, religious beliefs, or other social or cultural norms.” 2
A component of effective teaching pedagogy, includes creating an environment that is physically and emotionally safe, especially when learning new skills and concepts. The principles of The Four Pillars, “Respect, Listen, Understand, Communicate” as sourced from The Students Commission of Canada can help enable a safer learning environment, and a common understanding of respect in the classroom when approaching the topics of consent and gender-based sexual violence.
Teachers may also find themselves in the role of a caring adult for students. While this can be a valuable role in school communities, it can also be a challenging responsibility particularly when students choose to disclose personal information. It is important to be aware of and understand the limitations to teacher-student confidentiality, and to also be aware of the policies and guidelines for risk management within the school board, as well as professional boundaries, and connections to appropriate professional care when needed. If a student discloses that they are at risk of harming themselves or others, the information disclosed by the student cannot remain confidential between only the student and teacher, as the teacher has a Duty to Report.
What is Consent?
The concept of consent is deeply rooted in the Health and Physical Education curriculum. The learning in this content area compliments the Social-Emotional Learning Skills and Healthy Living strand in grades 1-8, and the Living Skills and Healthy Living Strand in grades 9-12. It is important that the curriculum is used to focus on developing skills to identify, prevent, and resolve issues such as bullying, peer assault, child abuse, harassment and violence in relationships.
Consent can look, sound, and feel different at different stages and ages of life:
In the primary division, students learn about recognizing caring and exploitative behaviours, and the importance of standing up for themselves and others.
In the junior division, students learn about various types of bullying, abuse, and other non-consensual behavior. They learn how to make informed decisions that demonstrate respect for themselves and others in order to help build healthy relationships.
In the intermediate and senior division, students build on previous learning where to assess the potential impact of violent behaviours, and assess situations for potential danger.
Consenting and asking for consent are all about setting personal boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others. It is important that students learn how to properly communicate with others in order to build and sustain healthy relationships, and to also learn how to communicate their needs effectively.
What is consent to sexual activity?
Sexual activity can include kissing, sexual touching, and sexual intercourse. The choice to have sex, or not, is very personal. In the intermediate division, “students begin learning about the understanding of the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive factors that need to be considered when making decisions related to sexual health. Students are also developing critical thinking skills when it comes to sexual intimacy.” 3 As teachers, it is important that we identify and explain factors that can affect an individual’s decisions about sexual activity and teach what makes a healthy relationship so that students can make safe and informed choices.
Sexual consent is an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Consent lets someone know that sex is wanted. Sexual activity without consent is rape or sexual assault. Knowing the components of consent is valuable to ensure that students know that they have control with what happens to their body. The following FRIES acronym developed by Planned Parenthood , 4 was shared during the webinar to show how to develop and foster healthy relationships and how to recognize and intervene in unhealthy relationships.
- Freely given. Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime.
- Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story.
- Enthusiastic. You should only do stuff you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.
- Specific. Saying yes to one thing doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others.
What is Gender-Based Sexual Violence?
As Roslyn described in the webinar, sexual violence describes the force or manipulation (physical or psychological) into unwanted sexual activity without a person’s consent. Examples of sexual violence takes multiple forms, such as: childhood sexual abuse, isolated incidents of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, and cyber harassment.
Societal norms can contribute to sexual violence. Oppression in all of its forms is among the root causes of sexual violence. This can include, but not limited to, racism, classism, sexism, and ableism. It is also important to note that many people continue to be harmed because of their gender, gender expression, gender identity or perceived gender because of the power imbalances from societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. Roslyn also shared that gender-based sexual violence is when violence is directed against a person because of that person's gender or when violence affects a person of a particular gender disproportionately. The relationship between gender and violence is complex, however education is key and it starts here!
The Health and Physical Education curricula supports the learning in self-advocacy skills, conflict resolution, decision-making skills, as well as the ability to use assertiveness, resistance and refusal techniques. Ophea’s Sexual Violence Prevention Education Resources are based on the Draw the Line campaign. The Draw the Line campaign has been developed to increase teachers’ understanding of what is sexual violence and harassment and to raise awareness of how they can be prevented through early education and honest classroom conversations.
It is important to continue supporting students in learning how to build healthy relationships to establish positive patterns of communication and develop skills to support cooperative relationships based on respect. Learning about the concepts of consent will also help students understand how to recognize and respond to sexual violence and promote knowledge around gender equality.
Let’s keep the conversation going! Share with us how you’re using Ophea’s Sexual Violence Prevention Education Resources as conversation starters in your class and school by tagging @OpheaCanada on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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1Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 39). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf
2Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 40). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf
3Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 253, 281). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf
4 Planned Parenthood. (2021). Sexual Consent. Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/relationships/sexual-consent/