Make Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) compulsory in all schools
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Young people today are subjected to pressures in schools that many of us could barely imagine. From sexting to widespread access to porn - the school environment has changed. But education has not changed with it.
As long ago as early 2013, my heart broke as I read a 13-year old girl’s story, which she had shared with the Everyday Sexism Project. She wrote that she was so scared to have sex she would cry nearly every night. A boy at school had shown her a video on his mobile phone, and she didn’t understand why “the real life sex that we see is so scary and painful and the woman is crying and getting hurt.”
She went on: “I try to think don't worry you won’t have to do it for ages but everyone at school keeps acting like it’s normal and we’re meant to do it really soon like some of the boys keep asking me have I done it and can I do it with them and showing me the horrible pictures and things.”
Since then, the problem has got worse not better, yet, still the government resists making sex and relationships education a formal part of the curriculum.
That 13-year old is just one of thousands of young people who are confused and misinformed by what they see in online pornography. At one school I visited, teachers were dealing with a rape case involving a 14-year old boy. A teacher asked him: “why didn’t you stop when she was crying?” He replied: “Because it’s normal for girls to cry during sex.”
Young people are bombarded with confusing and often misogynistic messages from the world around them -- 60% have seen online porn by the age of 14. Teenage girls are getting pressured into having sex, and a recent BBC Freedom of Information request revealed that 5,500 sexual offences, including 600 rapes, were reported to police as having taken place in schools over a 3-year period. That’s almost exactly one rape per school day.
This is why we need compulsory sex and relationships education (SRE). It’s a scandal that our schools do not equip young people with the skills they need to understand consent, healthy relationships, LGBT rights and relationships, gender stereotypes and online pornography.
While some parents may speak to their children about these issues individually, not all will, and sadly some children will already be experiencing sexual abuse outside the classroom. We owe every child clear, age-appropriate information, so they can understand that abuse isn’t normal, and learn how to navigate healthy relationships.
It’s too important to leave to chance.
Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project
Sarah Green and Rachel Krys, Co-Directors of the End Violence Against Women Coalition
Sources for statistics and more information available at www.srenow.org
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