Rotherham scandal & online pornography cited as reasons for compulsory Sex & Relationships Education
Campaigners who wrote to all party leaders asking them to commit to compulsory Sex & Relationships Education if elected next May have today (18 December) published responses from David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Natalie Bennett.
While Clegg, Miliband and Bennett all state that they are committed to introducing compulsory ‘SRE’ as a key measure for preventing abuse of women and girls, Cameron says that the Conservatives will leave the decision of whether and how to teach SRE to individual schools.
Citing public concern at the Rotherham ‘grooming’ scandal, high levels of sexual assaults on young women and the easy availability of online porn, the End Violence Against Women Coalition and the Everyday Sexism Project launched an online petition in September asking party leaders to pledge to introduce compulsory Sex & Relationships Education (SRE) if elected next May. They also wrote directly to all party leaders asking their views.
Sex and Relationships Education which deals with consent, equality and respect is not currently compulsory (1) despite being overwhelmingly popular with the public (2) and being recommended as a key abuse prevention measure by every expert in the field (3).
Everyday Sexism Project founder and writer Laura Bates said:
“While we warmly welcome the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green recognition that compulsory SRE is an absolutely essential measure for trying to stem the tide of abuse of women and girls in our society, we are obviously disappointed that the Prime Minister appears not yet able to match this commitment.
“Daily entries to the Everyday Sexism Project reveal a great deal of confusion and misinformation amongst young people about issues such as sexual consent. The Prime Minister’s response about existing PSHE and SRE guidelines belies the reality that current provision is patchy and inadequate. 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. We would urge David Cameron to speak to young people about their lives – from daily encounters with misogynistic and explicit sexual material, to routine sexual harassment which schools don’t know how to deal with. Ask them what they think the solution is and they will tell you that they need time and support in school to talk about sex and respectful, healthy relationships.”
EVAW Coalition Director Sarah Green said:
“There is a clear public consensus that recognises the time has come for sex and relationships education for all young people in school, and that it must talk about respect, consent and equality. Experts and those who provide services for survivors of abuse all agree this is the key long term prevention measure that we need – in order to tackle attitudes that make excuses for abuse before they set in, and to empower those at risk of abuse to seek support.
“We hope to see this issue feature prominently in the election debate next year, and we hope to hear some new thought and resolution from the Prime Minister David Cameron, from the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and from senior colleagues around them. We note that the Prime Minister’s letter acknowledges the impact of new technology on young people’s lives, and that his Government is taking action on this in other policy areas. We hope his party might make connections between these and look at SRE as part of child protection, child safety and anti-bullying where it is already agreed that schools should not have an opt out.”
The Labour Party and Green Party responses are both full and considered and clearly situate the need for compulsory SRE in the context of abuse of women and girls and the need to give young people space to talk about consent, respect and equality between men and women. Both parties have made MPs vote on the issue over the last two years by putting motions and Bills before Parliament.
The Liberal Democrats response is shorter but very clear that they would require all state-funded schools to teach age appropriate SRE, including free schools and academies.
UKIP also failed to respond to the campaigners’ letter asking for their commitment to compulsory SRE and their party policy has recently been revealed to be in confusion.
The campaigners want to see SRE made part of Personal Social Health and Economic education (PSHE). The full petition calls for:
- All schools, primary and secondary, to teach SRE including sexual consent, gender stereotypes, healthy and respectful relationships and the harms of online pornography
- Teacher training and statutory guidance to back this up
- A wider programme of work to prevent abuse of women and girls as part of the Home Office-led Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy.
The petition is at www.change.org/srenow and campaigners are tweeting it with #SREnow. More than 35,000 people have signed the petition and it includes high profile supports like Mumsnet. Hundreds of people have shared their experiences of poor sex and relationships education experiences on this hash-tag which can be read here: https://storify.com/EverydaySexism/srenow
- While young people must be taught the biological basics of human reproduction by the age of 15 (and schools can teach it within whichever subject they choose – including science, RE and PSHE) there is no guarantee they will receive lessons covering ‘relationships education’ ie what non-abusive, healthy relationships look like, the law on sexual consent, the harms of pornography, and equality and respect in intimate relationships.
- For example a 2013 YouGov survey for EVAW found that 86% of UK adults believe that sex and relationships education “which addresses sexual consent and respectful relationships” should be compulsory in secondary schools.
- A 2010 YouGov survey for EVAW found that almost one third of 16-18 year old girls in the UK had been subjected to unwanted sexual touching at school and 71% of all 16-18 year olds hear sexual name calling such as ‘slut’ or ‘slag’ towards girls at school at least a few times a week. NSPCC and Office for the Children’s Commissioner research has found that ‘sexting’ is often coercive and non-consensual, with girls far more likely to be pressured to share explicit images of themselves as boys seeking a trophy. It was recently reported that over 1,000 alleged sexual offences in schools, including 134 rapes, were recorded by the Police in 2013 (Freedom of Information request by the Independent, published 22 August 2014; more than half were committed by other children). Women’s organisations and support services, the NSPCC, the Children’s Commissioner, Alexis Jay in her Rotherham report, and many others have all called for compulsory SRE as a key abuse prevention measure.
Press Release at http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/news/184/party-leaders-split-on-compulsory-sex-relationships-education