Relationships, sex and consent education should be taught to children as young as three and is less effective, but still important, the older people get, according to a leading sexual abuse lawyer.

A new book, Legitimate Sexpectations, by Katrina Marson, a prosecutor from the ACT, questions Australia’s “getting lucky” culture and suggests the nation needs a revamp in relationships and sexuality education (RSE). 

Headshot of Marson

Author and lawyer Katrina Marson. Photo: supplied.

Marson, who was named ACT Young Lawyer of the Year in 2016, has worked with the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, implementing criminal justice recommendations. She has solidified her experience into a new book, Legitimate Sexpectations.

“The criminal justice system is reactive. We need a proactive approach to sexual wellbeing,” Marson told Central News. 

“This education is most effective when it starts really young, is consistent, and is frequent.

“If you start sex ed at university, you may as well wait until they start having kids,” Marson recalled a German expert saying to her. 

“I don’t think it’s ever too late.” 

Catharine Pruscino, from sexual violence prevention programme Respect.Now.Always. at UTS, agrees that work like hers should start earlier. 

“We should have conversations around consent in appropriate forms from the time young people can talk,” she said.

Concern about sexual violence in Australia is increasingly on the public agenda, with young campaigners Chanel Contos, Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame highlighting an alarming culture. 

In her book Marson writes: “As the village that raises you, we have let you down.” 

She tells Central News: “It is tempting to blame parents, teachers, or the government, but the village is all of us.”

Pruscino echoes the need for a community wide response and says UTS leaves no one out of its mandatory training module – Consent Matters

“The vice-chancellor has done it; I’ve done it; the most recent student to come through the front door has done it,” she said.

Marson’s book uses fictional scenarios to show how education might have prevented a moment of sexual violence. The stories draw from patterns in the justice system that she has seen firsthand: young people misreading sexual initiation, buying drinks to “get lucky”, or refusing protection. Readers may see shadows of their own experiences. Book Cover of Legitimate Sexpectations pink and blue

Both Marson and Pruscino say co-design with students is vital for effective consent education. This means involving students of mixed ability, those who are neurodivergent and young people with a variety of sexualities and gender expressions. 

Australia has plenty of effective grassroots RSE, but most are internally funded like the Respect.Now.Always initiatives across the university sector. 

“All young people need access to RSE, not just those lucky enough to have a school doing a good job,” said Marson.

Consent education will be mandated in Australian schools beginning next year, with roll-out details to be confirmed, but Marson highlights this is a milestone, not a finish line. 

“We need to recognise that relationships and sexuality education is a right, and we need to reflect on how we’ve contributed to this culture,” she said.

Main image by Alex Voulgaris on Unsplash.