Consent Educator Chanel Contos Spoke with Madison Griffiths About Sex and Respect. Here’s What We Learnt.

Content warning: sexual assault, rape


At no point in Australia’s history has consent been a more prominent topic of discussion and debate. Proof point #1: Sex education activist Chanel Contos’ latest book Consent Laid Bare is flying off the shelves. Proof point #2: Chanel’s in-conversation with Madison Griffiths at the Wheeler Centre during IWD week was a sold out event (in fact, it sold out weeks ago). 

But even Chanel would admit we have a long way to go when it comes to sex and consent. Polling released in February 2023 reveals that young men in the UK are more likely than young women to believe that feminism has done more harm than good. And social media influencer Andrew Tate — famous for his aggressive anti-women rhetoric, currently under house arrest for human trafficking — well, he remains a leading role model for boys and young men. Clearly, we have a problem. 

Luckily, people like Chanel are stepping up to do something about this pervasive issue. Chanel Contos became a leading figure in the consent education movement in Australia in 2021, when she created a media frenzy about the high rates of sexual assault throughout private schools in Sydney. 

Through Instagram, she invited private school students to share their experiences with sex and consent. Were they the victim of sexual assault by another private school student? Did they receive any education on consent as part of their schooling? The response was overwhelming and directly led to the formation of Teach Us Consent, a consent education campaign founded by Chanel. 

At the Wheeler Centre on Tuesday 5 March 2023, Chanel was asked by author and artist Madison Griffiths, in front of the packed crowd, to reflect on her persistent efforts to eradicate rape culture. The Victorian Women’s Trust was proud to be supporting this event. 

Here’s the following important takeaways we picked up from their hour long discussion: 


1. Consent education needs to be embedded in our culture and schooling from the start.

Chanel outlined the dangers of waiting until students are 16 years of age to talk about what consent really means in practice. By that time, students are likely to have already been exposed to sexual assault, potentially as a bystander, victim or perpetrator, or a combination of all three. 

She argued that we need to approach this with empathy — how can we expect young people to have the skills to approach these experiences with consent if they are not taught? Chanel asked us to imagine if we had consent embedded way back in early years education. It would make the notion of coercion or entitlement potentially unthinkable. She also said that if we approach sexual experiences with vulnerability and empathy, rape just isn’t possible.

2. Just as we all need critical thinking skills, young people need support to develop porn literacy.

Pornography will always be a contentious issue. While there are performers who are empowered members of the industry and creators who are making porn content under the lens of consent, there are countless examples which promote violence against women and children. 

Young people need skills to identify toxic tropes within pornography (racism, incest, and misogyny) and support to navigate sexuality with respect for themselves and others. It’s beyond being pro or anti pornography; it’s a matter of education. And it must be a priority, or a distorted understanding of sex will continue to infiltrate young people’s sexual experiences.


3. AI and image-based abuse is the new frontier for feminism.


Chanel and Madison mused on what it is that makes people feel entitled to take an image of someone they know and through AI, place their likeness onto sexualised imagery or videos (known as ‘deep fakes’). Chanel pointed out that right now law enforcement and legislation continues to lag so far behind the rapid development of AI technology. If we don’t work to keep up, the risks will keep multiplying. A deeply troubling scenario that warrants further unpacking.

4. We have normalised sexual assault and rape to the point that those involved in these acts don’t recognise that this is what has happened.


Chanel recounted an experience of sitting around a campfire with young men she knew from high school and setting the cat amongst the pigeons with the phrase, “rape is a socially acceptable act”. They became immediately defensive. She calmly took them on by naming mutual acquaintances who had committed acts of rape and the complete lack of fall-out from their actions. Few had been charged, most were now on their way to climbing the social and professional ladder befitting of their station and private school education. In short, their transgressions were rewarded. They had suffered no consequences. Ergo, rape must be socially acceptable. Chanel said that this kind of thinking was prevalent and normalised to the point where victims and perpetrators don’t even understand that their experiences are classified as rape. This is where we need to do more work.


5. Calling sexism out is hard but it can be done.


A question from an audience member prompted this phase of the discussion and there was a palpable hush as Chanel and Madison considered what it is that prevents people, typically women, from calling out misogynistic comments and behaviour. Chanel felt that the root of the issue lies in the fact that women have to make a swift calculation about their safety in such scenarios (also known as fight, flight, freeze or fawn response). For instance: If I push back against this commentary, could I be physically harmed (fight)? Could I flee in time (flight)? Should I pretend I didn’t hear (freeze)? Or is it safer if I just keep smiling and pretend to be ‘in on the joke’ (fawn)?

Chanel acknowledged that we’ve all been in situations where we wish we had spoken up and called out behaviour that crossed the line. She recommended making a pact with your friends to call it out or giving permission to call each other out. That’s how we attain safety in numbers, as well as accountability.

Madison asked Chanel if she thought we had made progress (a frequent topic of rumination for any feminist). Chanel paused for a moment before affirming, yes we have but it’s split.

While she loathed using the overused term “polarisation”, so closely tied to the US and Trumpian politics, she said we have begun to veer in two directions. Some, like many in the audience at the Wheeler Centre, have taken the teachings of consent on board and are reevaluating their actions and experiences according to what is ethical and feminist. Whereas others, like those who follow the Andrew Tates of the world, have headed in the other direction. Our task is to arrest this dichotomy before it’s too late.

Her advice? Read the chapter of her book, Dear Boys and Young Men. Or better yet, gift Consent Laid Bare to the young men in your life and have them read that part themselves. She hopes this particular chapter will act as a ‘gateway drug’ for young men, opening their eyes to the harms of patriarchy and how feminism can release us all from its grip.

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Chanel Contos’ book Consent Laid Bare is out now in all good bookstores. The conversation between Chanel Contos and Madison Griffiths was presented by the Wheeler Centre in partnership with the Victorian Women’s Trust.

Ally Oliver-Perham

When she’s not managing communications at VWT, you will find Ally cheerfully bouncing on her toddler’s trampoline (with or without said toddler) or sneaking in few pages of a book. With a passion for gender equality, Ally’s interested in meaningful ways we can work together for social good.


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