Student Voices Against Sexual Harm

SASH banner used on Eventbrite registration pageNCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch and Students Against Sexual Harm (SASH) at Christchurch Girls’ High School (CGHS) collaborated to hold an action workshop for high school students in Greater Christchurch at Tūranga Library in central Christchurch 4-6 pm on Tuesday 11 May 2023. The workshop was attended by twenty students from five different high schools, as well as two representatives of the Empowerment Trust, two counsellors from one of the schools attending, and NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch members who had worked with students to organise the workshop. The eight male students who attended were from three different high schools (one a high school for boys); the others were female students, overwhelmingly from two large girls’ schools in the city.

After a welcome, and some information about SASH, students were engaged in small group discussion of workshop questions with two breaks for refreshments and informal talk. There was a lively buzz throughout the two hours and a group photo was taken at the end. 

SASH Workshop Attendees final photo
SASH Workshop Attendees at Tūranga Library, 11 May 2023.
Image courtesy of NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch.

Background to the workshop

SASH had its origins in 2021 when a group of CGHS students actively voiced their concern about various forms of sexual harm experienced by students at Christchurch Girls’ High School. The Principal of CGHS commissioned a survey of students that revealed significant levels of sexual harassment as well as incidences of rape among those who responded to the anonymous online survey. (See previous article on this at SASH was established at the school in 2022 by students keen to address the issues raised by the survey. NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch highlighted these issues at its annual Hilda Lovell-Smith suffrage event in November 2021. In October 2022 SASH student leaders were panellists at the Hilda Lovell-Smith  event, when Minister Marama Davidson presented on ‘Tackling Family and Sexual Harm – What works, What needs to Change and How?’ As a result, NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch has established a relationship with students at CGHS who have continued to work on issues relating to sexual harm.

2023 Workshop focus – strategies to address sexual harm

Hawwa Niyaz and Hope Anderson Gardner, the first SASH leaders at CGHS, left school at the end of 2022, and Charlotte Ferrier and Kayla Pringle became leaders of SASH. They started working with Rosemary Du Plessis, Louise Tapper and Zoe Cummins of NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch in December 2022 to plan an International Women’s Day 2023 workshop for high school students that would brainstorm action needed in schools to address issues related to students’ experiences of sexual harm. SASH leaders were keen to run a workshop that focused on what students could do in their high schools. The workshop was initially planned for 7 March 2023, but was postponed until 11 May to allow more time to advertise the event.

Charlotte Ferrier, SASH co-president, speaking at SASH workshop. All images courtesy of NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch.

Workshop planning – a student-driven collaboration

Planning for the workshop was student driven. Students decided on the title for the workshop, created a logo for SASH, designed the poster and organised the distribution of information about the event. Kayla Pringle and Charlotte Ferrier set up a meeting with members of the Empowerment Trust who had a mentoring relationship with SASH, and got their advice on how to run the workshop effectively. Students favoured a venue that was not a particular school, but a neutral place where students from different schools could meet. Notes taken during small group discussion would be written up by SASH.

NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch supported planning for the workshop (venue booking, refreshments, consultation meetings, feedback on workshop plans, etc.). NCWNZ at a national level provided resources which met the costs of expert input into the poster design, venue hire and refreshments for those attending -- thanks to a grant from Korowai Whetū Social Cohesion. SASH members greeted students when they arrived, recorded attendees contact details at the workshop, set out the refreshments and cleared up after the workshop.

Summary of workshop discussion

SASH workshop small group and screen
SASH workshop small group

After hearing about the establishment of SASH, students at the workshop discussed what could be done at their school. They said that student to student resources were needed, and not just material that was prepared by teachers, counsellors and experts in the field. They identified a need for clear processes, protocols and protections which would make it easier for students to speak up about their experiences of sexual harm. They focused on a need for much more awareness about sexual harm and the need to remove the stigma often associated with talking about such experiences.

Kayla Pringle in small group discussion
Kayla Pringle, SASH co-president, (second from right) in a small group discussion.

A number of students thought that parents/guardians need to be “educated” about sexual harm, and they wanted staff who worked in student health/support services like nurses and counsellors to set up clear protocols for reporting experiences of sexual harm. They identified the need for drop boxes to be available in schools where students could anonymously report experiences of sexual harm.

There was support for schools to survey their students to find out about their experiences of sexual harm. Some students thought these surveys should be done in form time. Schools needed more information about student experiences and students needed more education about the topic – students needed information about the “realities” about what was happening or might happen.

SASH Workshop - boys taking notes
Workshop participants taking notes for a small group discussion.

Some students had ideas that would be useful in particular schools, for example connections among Christian schools to talk about sexual harm. Also, collaboration between brother and sister single sex schools could be encouraged to raise awareness on the issues, especially the ways LGBTQ+ students are often targeted for being different – and how to end this.

Students then discussed the possible impact of a group like SASH at their school. Generally students from other schools thought such a group could help to make students feel more comfortable about voicing about sexual harm and abuse. They thought a SASH type group would need to work with a range of organisational structures in schools to be effective. It was important to identify people who could take on leadership and also engage in actions that involved both junior and senior students. They would have to work on the issues consistently and collaboratively.

When they were asked about what actions would have most impact at their school, having a box in which students could post messages was identified as a key action. It would take the fear out of coming forward. However, they said it might not be taken seriously and just used as a “rubbish bin”. Leadership by those in Years 12 and 13 was seen as important, but teacher mentors were also seen as valuable. Getting all the teachers involved in programmes directed at addressing sexual harm would be important. Some students suggested that teachers needed “lessons as well”. Students thought that any programme directed at addressing these issues must be “hands on” and “interactive” to get students engaged and also involve all age levels, even if older students were leaders.

SASH Workshop - ChCh Girls High School students
Christchurch Girls High School students during a break.

Attendees thought that support from subject teachers, form teachers and deans as well as school councils, prefects and parents was necessary to achieve change in how schools responded to issues relating to sexual harm. Sexual harm, and action on it, should be addressed at assemblies, especially by the school principal at the first assembly of the year. Since most of the harassment and harm happens outside school, changes would depend on engagement with these issues outside schools and in communities.

Impacts of participating in the workshop

Students indicated that participating in the workshop made them feel more comfortable about talking about sexual harm. It encouraged them to think that students need to have a voice and that as individuals they were not alone. They thought that connections with other students and engagement with them about these issues was the key to change, and there was a need to “put words into action.” They discussed the need for support from teachers and the importance of connections with other students. They saw change as requiring consistent action, a capacity to engage other students and the need to be open-minded and accepting. Some of them were confident that the culture of the school could be used to educate students about what was acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

Issues of consent and consent education

At the end of the workshop the focus shifted to issues relating to consent education in schools in Aotearoa New Zealand. These were the questions that were posed:

  • What is missing from current consent education in NZ or at your school?
  • What can students do to promote consensual relationships?
  • What would help students to be able to say no/actively consent?
SASH Workshop leaders Charlotte Ferrier and Kayla Pringle  with members of the Empowerment Trust
SASH Workshop leaders Charlotte Ferrier and Kayla Pringle, with two Empowerment Trust mentors.

Students thought that consent education was not adequate in schools. Sometimes it was a component of self-defence training for girls, but it should be available to all students. Workshop participants thought that consent education should include student-led discussions and would ideally involve interactions between senior and junior students. Students across all year groups should have access to consent education, not just those studying Health as a subject. Programmes should cater for different personalities and cultural groups and be age appropriate. It should be designed by those with professional expertise but also involve student input. Several students mentioned the Tea Consent video (copyright ©2015 Emmeline May and Blue Seat Studios available on YouTube at and how it could be used effectively with students. 

Students were asked what students could do to promote consensual relationships. They said that both student-led discussions about consent and input from effective out of school speakers was important. They thought that students needed to have access to what to do and what not to do – practical examples from a range of different people, including other students. Efforts at improving students’ communication skills were seen as a way of promoting consensual relationships.

Students were asked to discuss what would help students to say no or actively consent? They suggested open student-led discussions, education about consent from a young age, normalising talk about consent and what counts as consent. They thought it would be helpful to educate everyone, teachers as well as students, and that consent education needed to be taught separately, not just as part of sexuality and relationships education. Comfortable and relaxed student/teacher spaces during school would be a good environment to access information about how to effectively say no or actively consent. They said it was very important for everyone to know that ‘no means no’ and also that ‘maybe’ means no. Input from outside the school environment about consent was also seen as important.

Report compiled by Charlotte Ferrier and Kayla Pringle (SASH, Christchurch Girls’ High School) and Rosemary Du Plessis (Co-President, NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch). For more information about this workshop, please contact NCWNZ Ōtautahi Christchurch Branch at [email protected].


To read more articles from The Circular (May-June 2023) issue 641, click on the tag below.
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