August 23, 2016
Cross-posted from: Everyday Sexism and EVAW (London)
The Everyday Sexism Project and the End Violence Against Women Coalition are asking for Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) to be made compulsory in all schools in England, primary and secondary, state and private. We are asking for SRE to include informationhttp://www.aroomofourown.org/ on sexual consent, healthy relationships, online pornography, gender stereotypes and LGBT rights and relationships. We believe it is essential that SRE is delivered as part of a ‘whole-school’ approach, supported by teacher training; improved school leadership; a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and bullying in schools and a comprehensive review of current statutory guidance on child protection and safeguarding.
Here are some of the major reasons why:
- Young people are bombarded with negative and confusing messages about sex and relationships and how men and women should treat each other – from music videos like Blurred Lines, to online porn, which the vast majority see whether or not they seek it out. Myths and misconceptions abound about relationships, consent and young people’s rights to their own bodies. In a recent study, one fifth (18%) of 14-17 year old boys strongly agreed with statements such as: “It is sometimes acceptable for a man to hit a woman if she has been unfaithful.” We owe young people clear, age-appropriate information to help them navigate these issues in a safe and healthy way. Topics such as composting and healthy eating are compulsory on the national curriculum. Isn’t this equally as important?
- We know that girls are already experiencing sexual harassment and violence at school, where abusive and coercive ‘sexting’ and sexual harassment are common. A BBC Freedom of Information request revealed that over 5500 sex crimes in UK schools had been reported to police in just 3 years (2012-15), including 600 rapes. Taking into account the average length of the school term, that adds up to one rape reported in a UK school every school day. A YouGov survey found that almost one third of 16-18 year old girls experiences unwanted sexual touching at school, and nearly three quarters (71%) of all 16-18 year olds hear sexual name calling using terms such as ‘slut’ or ‘slag’ against girls at school several times a week. It is therefore urgent that topics like consent, respect and gender stereotypes are openly discussed in schools.
- Many young people may already be experiencing abuse, in or outside the school environment. According to the NSPCC, in the UK 40% of teenage girls have been pressured into having sex. The British Crime survey revealed that 13% of girls and 6% of boys aged 16-19 experience abuse from a partner each year. And according to the NSPCC, 5% of children have been sexually abused. Many young people are groomed into believing that these experiences are normal, or coerced into keeping silent about the abuse. In addition, 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence. They deserve to be supported and provided the necessary information to understand that abuse is wrong, it isn’t normal, and that help is available.
- Sexual violence is a major problem in our society. According to government statistics, 85,000 women are raped every year in England and Wales and 400,000 sexually assaulted. Giving young people the information they want and need, and the opportunity to talk, is the best method we have of preventing abuse in the long term. Experts in the field all agree.
- Current provision of SRE is extremely patchy. Many people believe SRE is already compulsory and are surprised to hear that it isn’t (at the moment schools are only required to teach the biological basics of sexual reproduction by the age of 15, anything extra to this is voluntary). When the UK Youth Parliament surveyed almost 22,000 young people about SRE, 40% said theirs was either poor or very poor, and 43% said they hadn’t received any at all. When Brook surveyed over 2,000 14-18-year-olds throughout the UK, nearly half said that SRE “doesn’t really cover what they need to know about sex”. An ICM poll for the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) found that 77% of young people feel they do not have enough information or support to deal with physical or sexual violence. And a recent Ofsted report found that schools were failing young people on SRE.
- Experiences of SRE can be particularly negative for LGBT young people. A new report published last month by the Terrence Higgins Trust revealed that 95% of young people were not taught about LGBT relationships in SRE and 97% had no discussion about gender identity.
- Public opinion surveys show compulsory SRE is popular across the board – Polls have found that 86% of UK adults, 92% of parents and 99% of young people support it. It is also strongly supported by teaching unions, cross-party MPs, women’s groups and other charities.