Young teenage boys at a school in Victoria, Australia, were forced to stand up during an assembly and apologize to girls at the school on behalf of their gender.
Australian media outlet 7News reported that parents of male students at Brauer College in Warrnambool were outraged to learn about what their children were forced to do. One parent, Danielle Shephard, told the outlet that her 12-year-old son felt confused after he was forced to apologize.
“He said that he was made to stand up and basically apologize… it wasn’t explained properly to the male students what they were doing or why they were doing it,” Shephard told the outlet.
The exercise was conducted after more than a dozen students and parents at another school made accusations of sexual harassment and assault. Shephard said Brauer parents weren’t warned that an assembly on consent would take place or that boys would be forced to apologize to girls for something they personally had not done.
Brauer College Principal Jane Boyle told 7News that “[i]n retrospect, while well-intended, we recognize that this part of the assembly was inappropriate.”
Brauer also, however, insisted that respect for women was an important topic for the school, without acknowledging any kind of respect for boys as well.
“Schools play an important role in the promotion of safety and respect of all students, and discussions in schools around respect towards girls and women are a key part of this vital work,” she said in a statement to the outlet. “This week, at a whole school assembly, Brauer College discussed the topic of respect for woman and the importance of bystander behaviour and speaking up to report incidents of inappropriate behaviour.”
“The assembly included the screening of a video message by Brisbane Boys’ College Captain Mason Black about being proactive in stopping incidents of sexual assault and harassment,” she continued. “As part of this discussion boys were asked to stand as a symbolic gesture of apology for the behaviours of their gender that have hurt or offended girls and women.”
Boyle further said the school had plans to contact parents to “explain the reasons behind the assembly” and “to ensure that any student who requires support is aware that it is available.”
The assembly followed a move by Victoria’s Acting Premier James Merlino telling schools that they would soon be required to teach consent to school children as part of an expansion of a program known as Respectful Relationships. As 7News reported, it “remains unclear what the program will look like, or whether there will be any role for parents.”
“It is a program that should be rolled out nationwide. But we have to listen to students, who say they want and need a greater focus on this issue in the classroom,” Merlino said. “It is why we will mandate the teaching of consent in all government schools in an age-appropriate way.”