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What are VLA and ‘Sex, Young People and the Law’ all about?
Broadly speaking, Victoria Legal Aid helps people with their legal problems, protects the rights of Victorians and represents people that need it the most. We provide free legal information and education with a focus on prevention and early resolution.
The Community Legal Education Program aims to build public knowledge of the law. A lot of the work we do involves producing and distributing resources and at the moment we’re rolling out a 3-year project called ‘Sex, young people and the law.’ Our lawyers talk to young people about four key areas: sexting, cyber-bullying, sexual consent and the age of sexual consent. We’re there to educate young people about the law so they’re in a position to make informed decisions for themselves.
The ‘Sex, young people and the law’ project grew out of an earlier project run in the Bendigo region. That program found there were high rates of sex related crimes where both the offender and the victim were between the ages of 15 and 19, and also that teachers were struggling with how to address cyberbulling and sexting issues.
Why are these issues becoming increasingly important to address?
Although it’s not happening every day, there are cases of young people being sent to court for things like sexting . This can lead to them being put on the sex offenders list, which is obviously something that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
All young people are different, but what’s the standard level of understanding of these legal issues you’re seeing when you go into schools?
It really depends on what year level we’re working with. Year 10s are usually pretty across the sexting and cyberbullying stuff but even they don’t have a great grip on consent and the age of consent laws.
A lot of young people know that there are laws around sexting and that it can be illegal, but they’re not clear on which set of laws they come under. We inform them that the laws weren’t originally designed for young people or even for sexting specifically, but that they come under child pornography laws.
How do your lawyers communicate the complexities of these issues for a younger audience?
This type of education needs to be interactive and engaging otherwise you can’t gauge how much they’re taking in or understanding. There’s a real focus on activities, group work and getting the young people to flesh out laws and consequences. We also find that real life examples of young people going through the court system work really well and that’s where the lawyer’s individual experience usually comes into it. We try to deliver the content in normal language and avoid talking in ‘concepts’ too much.
Consent, sexting and cyberbullying are all social issues as well as legal ones. How do you balance this in your workshops?
We don’t go in to educate people about what’s right and what’s wrong or any sort of moral judgement. We go in to teach them the facts about the law. We try to go into schools that already have pre-existing programs in place around sexual health, cybersafety and healthy relationships so our work can be part of a suite of approaches that complement each other. Our role in that is the legal side but we recognise that social and cultural elements are also important.
What’s coming up at VLA?
We’re just putting some finishing touches on a new app called ‘Below the Belt: Sex, selfies and cyberbullying’. It’s a national app that, as you work through it, provides state-specific legal information as well as direct links to services and support. It uses activities and quizzes to help young people navigate difficult issues.
Explore the ‘Sex, young people and the law’ educational resources.