Dear The Department for Education
We, the undersigned, as students, teachers, parents and other members of society, feel that it is vital that educating young people about consensual sexual relationships and contact become a compulsory part of the UK’s sex education curriculum.
Currently the UK curriculum does not require for consent to be taught, and therefore providing any information regarding the topic is at the discretion of the school. We strongly believe that educating young people about consensual sex and sexual contact is essential for the reasons outlined below.
- Education is a tool to help prevent sexual assault.
- In the UK 1 in 5 women (aged 16-49) has experienced sexual assault in her lifetime (2). By informing and educating young people about sexual consent we can work towards dramatically reducing the figure of over 400,000 women being sexually assaulted each year in England and Wales (also 2), therefore improving the lives of a great percentage of the population by preventing assault from occurring in the first place.
- Sexual assault is largely underreported in the UK. By giving people a better understanding of what sexual assault is and how to deal with it the Criminal Justice System will become more informed about cases and be able to deal with them more effectively.
- This will have a knock-on effect, with stronger discipline leading to decreased sexual assault cases. Statistics collected in January 2013 present us with the following findings: “Females who had reported being victims of the most serious sexual offences in the last year were asked, regarding the most recent incident, whether or not they had reported the incident to the police. Only 15 per cent of victims of such offences said that they had done so. Frequently cited reasons for not reporting the crime were that it was ‘embarrassing’, they ‘didn’t think the police could do much to help’, that the incident was ‘too trivial or not worth reporting’, or that they saw it as a ‘private/family matter and not police business.’” (also 2) Educating young people about the seriousness of assault is vital to remove the harmful and unnecessary stigma surrounding sexual assault, encourage victims and/or observers to report cases to the police, and ultimately to ensure a safer and happier community.
- Many teenagers are now receiving their sex education through porn.
- Due to the explosion of the digital porn culture in recent years many young people are now learning about sex and sexual contact through watching pornography. As bodies of education and authority, schools and the government have the responsibility to counter violent messages about sex (conveyed in 89.1%of pornographic content (3)) with more healthy, consensual sexual messages. A channel 4 survey of over 400 pupils between the ages of 14 to 17 found that 3 in 10 said they learned about sex from porn (4)
We request that:
- By the age of 16 all children in the UK have received adequate information regarding sexual consent and associated issues.
- Teachers have received training in delivering this information, and are also aware of how to respond when they have knowledge of a student being a victim of sexual assault.
Specifically children are taught:
- What sexual consent is i.e. Clear and enthusiastic agreement from both parties when involved in any form of sexual contact.
- What sexual consent isn’t. This will involve highlighting situations that are often mistaken for consensual but are not, including – but not limited to – cases where a victim of assault was under the influence of alcohol or substances and feels that they did not give permission for sexual contact; asleep but had consented when conscious or in a marriage relationship without giving consent to their partner.
- How non-consensual sexual contact of any form can be damaging to the victim both physically and emotionally. This can be taught by giving personal accounts of rape-victims’ experiences and also by being shown statistical evidence. Students will understand that sexual assault can be detrimental to the victim’s mental health; up to two thirds of rape victims develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (1)and physical health; assault can lead to the spread of STIs and can also be the cause (regarding intercourse) of unwanted pregnancy.
- How non-consensual sexual contact of any form can have negative implications for the perpetrator. This would include educating about the justice system and laws regarding sexual harassment.
- A general overview of why consensual sexual contact is important for everyone to be respectful of others, to stay safe and to have healthy, happy relationships.
Our proposal is as follows:
Schools introduce the idea of sexual contact by running lessons on what sexual contact is (anything from kissing to intercourse).
Talk about enthusiastic consent; the clear and willing agreement from both parties when involved in any form of sexual contact.
Teach that non-consensual sex is rape and should be taken seriously.
Teach that any form of non-consensual sexual contact is assault and should also be taken seriously.
Give the legal definition of sexual violence. “Any unwanted sexual act or activity, including, but not restricted to: rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, rape within marriage / relationships, forced marriage, honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking, sexual exploitation and ritual abuse.”
Make students aware that sexual assault can be perpetrated by anyone. Assault is not only committed by strangers, but also by people known and/or trusted, such as a friend, family member, colleague, partner or ex-partner.
Advise students on what to do if they have been the subject of any form of unwanted sexual attention (detailed in teacher training, below).
Give examples of assault by presenting the students with scenarios. This would be a good opportunity to dispel victim-blaming ideas (including blaming the victim for choice of clothing, amount of alcohol consumed or being present in the place of assault).
We also request that teachers:
- Have access to adequate training on delivering both levels of educational information highlighted above.
- Receive regular safeguarding and disclosure training relating to sexual assault. They should be aware of child protection procedure and relevant support options available to their students.
Sexual consent as a compulsory part of the National Curriculum is only required in very few countries. These include Australia, Canada, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and the US states California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon and Connecticut. If the UK government incorporated sexual consent into the national curriculum we would be one of the first countries to do so in the world. In countries where consent has been introduced into the national curriculum, reported cases of rape have increased significantly, giving a voice to thousands of victims to seek help and receive justice. According to a 2009 report, the UK ranked 8th highest in the world for recorded and disclosed cases of rape (5). Therefore it is essential that we take action by introducing methods of prevention. The WHO Regional Office for Europe & BZgA advises that schools should emphasise the importance of “consensual sexual relations.” (6) A United Nations report also highlights that “the ability to refuse unwanted, unintended or unprotected sexual intercourse” should be taught (7). Teaching consent in the National Curriculum will be highly effective in educating future generations and therefore reducing this country’s cases of sexual assault.
We hope that you listen to the voices of students, teachers, parents and society as a whole and make sexual consent a required part of the UK sex education curriculum to ensure the health, happiness and safety of all members of society.
H. Littleton and C. E. Henderson, ‘If She Is Not a Victim, Does that Mean She Was not Traumatized? Evaluation of Predictors of PTSD Symptomatology among College Rape Victims
‘An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales’ conducted in January 2013 by the Ministry of Justice, the Office for National Statistics and the Home Office (Source
R. Wasnitzer and A. J. Bridges, ‘Aggression and Sexual Behaviour in Best-Selling Pornography: A Content Analysis Update’ 2007
‘Porn: The New Sex Education,’ Guardian, 30 March 2009
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Infographic