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In February, Chanel started an Instagram poll about sexual assault. This is what's happened since.

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers.

It started with an Instagram poll.

In February, Chanel Contos, a former student at Sydney's Kambala Girls' School, posted an Instagram Story asking her followers a single question:

"If you live in Sydney: have you or has anyone close to you ever experienced sexual assault from someone who went to an all-boys school?" 

She decided to create the poll after a conversation with a friend, who shared she was sexually assaulted by someone they both knew. 

"My friend told me of a sexual assault that happened to them when we were teens by a boy we both knew. We were also talking about another instance where I stopped a boy raping my friend," Chanel told Mamamia. 

"Originally, I was going to tag the boys and call them out on my [Instagram] Story and draw attention to the fact that they are ‘normal’ people who probably don’t even know they did this... Then my rational flatmate said, 'why don’t you make it more broad?' So I posted the poll."

Within 24 hours, she received nearly 300 responses, 73 percent saying 'yes'.

Watch: Grace Tame on the power of sharing sexual abuse survivors' stories. Post continues below. 


Video via ABC.

As the responses came flooding in, her poll soon evolved into a petition calling for earlier sex education in schools.

Within three days, the petition rose to 11,000 signatures and Chanel had received 1,200 anonymous testimonies. 

It was something Chanel never expected to happen. 

"I was so amazed by how many people were willing to tell me they had been sexually assaulted. I knew how common it was, but I was honoured in the trust people had to tell me personally," she explained.  

The response she received included instances of unwanted sex with older boys, being forced to perform oral sex, and rape while intoxicated or completely unconscious. 

"I can recall countless instances of boys differing in age at a number of private schools, with stories of both sexually harassing and assaulting women," she previously told Mamamia. 

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But these are the stories Chanel tries hard not to dwell on. 

"[Instead] I think about the messages I get from people who tell me that their grandma told her story for the first time in their life, or that this national conversation encouraged them to tell their friends or to report."

"The stories I think about most are the people who have messaged me to say because of this conversation their perpetrator apologised."

What's changed since?

Since posting the petition seven months ago, Chanel has helped shine a light on the need for more consent education in Australia and inspired major changes in schools across the country. 

In March, a month after she created the petition, the Victorian government announced consent education would become mandatory in all government schools under an expansion of the Respectful Relationship program. 

Meanwhile in Queensland, the state announced they will be introducing explicit consent education to schools at end of the year, following a state government review of its Respectful Relationships Education Program.

The review came after a number of Queensland students made testimonies on Chanel's petition, where they shared experiences of rape and sexual assault.

Chanel has also sparked change in NSW as well. 

In March, she teamed up with the head of the NSW Police Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad, Stacey Maloney, and Dr. Joy Townsend, one of Australia’s leading consent educators, to launch Operation Vest, which gives people the opportunity to anonymously report assaults to the police without initiating a criminal investigation. 

"Victims need to feel heard, and reporting in this way can bring closure to many and reduce the chances of repeat offenders socialising in our society," Chanel wrote on Instagram. 

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And it doesn't stop there. 

More broadly, Chanel has added to the national conversation around sexual assault and consent in Australia, alongside activists such as Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame.

Unfortunately, consent education still has a long way to go in this country. 

One change Chanel would like to see is mandatory consent education in the Australian curriculum. 

She also says there needs to be a "massive cultural shift" in the way we think about consent and sexual assault. 

"We need to continuously remember that it is our attitudes towards gender and sexuality that create this. It is not just the explicit acts of violence that need to stop, it’s the culture that needs to change."

"We are in a rape culture. Rape is normalised. Being a rapist is socially acceptable."

And while the classroom is a good place to start, Chanel says we need to keep calling out social injustices in the wider community.

"I think education is an amazing catalyst for cultural change but we also need everyone to be loud against injustices in order to prevent gender-based violence."

In the meantime, Chanel is busy behind the scenes continuing her advocacy work from London.

Since posting the petition seven months ago, her personal life has become somewhat of a "rollercoaster". 

Listen to the latest episode of The Quicky, all about sexual harassment at work. Post continues after podcast.

She's had to leave her job as a tutor in Business School at UNSW and her role at Hedgefund to focus on advocacy work while studying full time at the University College London, where she is soon to receive her Masters in Education, Gender and International Development. 

"My personal life has been a rollercoaster as I also only moved to the UK in September last year and have also been trying to make friends and maintain friendships through all of this," she shared. 

"It has also made it really difficult to stay in touch and catch up with all my friends (especially with so many of them being in Australia). But it has made me value my friendships endless amounts due to the support I’ve been given from my closest friends. 

"It also massively impacted my romantic/sex life at the start, and probably has changed it forever to an extent."

Now her days are full of meetings as she does work for her platform Teach Us Consent and communicates with people back home. 

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"I wake up 7:30am, I have meetings back to back until 12pm (working Sydney time), I do work for TUC [Teach Us Consent] until 4pm, have a nap around 4pm, before I finished my masters, I would work on uni from 6pm to 10pm. 

"But now that I’m finished I go to dinner with friends, jump back online again around 11pm to communicate with people in Australia, and then go to bed around 1am.

"Lockdown is over in the UK, so sometimes I do this work from somewhere very nice like Spain, Italy, France or Greece." 

While Chanel continues to work to improve consent education in Australia, she urges everyone to keep having open conversations around consent and sexual assault. 

"If you can, please engage in hard conversations with loved ones to make this change happen from the bottom up. I appreciate it is not easy, and am thankful for everyone who contributes to this ongoing conversation."

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

Chanel recently spoke at an On Consent panel discussion as part of ADAnow: a free, month-long, program of online activities and events featuring a diverse range of thinkers and creators. To stream her discussion on-demand, visit here. 

Feature Image: Instagram + Mamamia. 

Professional photo by: @indiahartforddavis @phoebetaylormakeup @caitlinmayjones @karla_clarke @adyneshoda

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