EVAW and Everyday Sexism Launch New Petition for Compulsory SRE
24 September 2014
PARTY LEADERS TARGETED FOR GENERAL ELECTION PLEDGE
Rotherham scandal, high levels of sexual assaults in schools & the impact of online pornography cited as reasons for compulsory SRE
Mumsnet’s Justine Roberts & young women among petition supporters
As the main party conferences begin, leading women’s rights campaigners have today (24 September) launched a new online petition addressed to all party leaders asking them to pledge before the General Election in May 2015 to making Sex & Relationships Education (SRE) compulsory in all schools as a key way of preventing abuse of women and girls. At present SRE is not compulsory (1).
The End Violence Against Women Coalition and the Everyday Sexism Project petition says young people today are bombarded with negative and conflicting messages about sex, relationships and how men and women should treat each other – from music videos and popular culture to online pornography which they see whether or not they seek it out. This is the context in which abusive ‘sexting’ and sexual harassment are common in schools (2).
The campaigners say that while children and teens are bombarded with sexist messages and images, there is often nothing to counter it in schools as they are not guaranteed to have the opportunity to discuss sex and relationships questions at school. As a result, issues such as sexual consent are understood in deeply gendered ways, with a ‘sexual double standard’ about men and women’s roles (3).
The EVAW Coalition and the Everyday Sexism Project are therefore asking David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and all Party Leaders to make a concrete pledge before the General Election in May 2015 to make the teaching of sexual consent, healthy and respectful relationships, gender stereotypes and the harms of online pornography compulsory in all schools as a key policy to prevent abuse.
Opinion polls and ongoing campaigning show that compulsory SRE has widespread public support, especially among parents, teachers and young people (4). The campaigners believe party political opinion on the issue is at a tipping point (5).
Laura Bates, Founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, said:
“From Blurred Lines to lads' mags, online porn to Snapchat, the Lad Bible to Page 3, our culture routinely portrays women as dehumanised and sexualised, and men as sexual aggressors. This normalises misogynistic and even abusive behaviour towards women and girls. We have to make the connection between the conflicting messages this delivers to young people and the fact that 85,000 women are raped in England & Wales every year.
“The abuse of girls such as that exposed in Rotherham is in part facilitated by the failure to challenge from an early age the view that men are entitled to women and girls, and by the failure to provide information and support for girls which might enable them to recognise abuse and seek help earlier.”
EVAW Coalition Director Holly Dustin said:
“The case for statutory SRE as part of compulsory PSHE is now overwhelming. It is a common sense measure in light of what we know about young people’s lives, the pressures they face in a sexist society and the prevalence of abuse of girls and women. It is the best chance we have as a society to provide young people, boys and young men in particular, with guidance about respectful and non-abusive relationships, and positive attitudes towards women.. There is now a chorus of support for compulsory SRE across the political spectrum, across professions and experts, among parents and teachers. We cannot sit back and hope to respond better to the next Rotherham - we need to prevent it in the first place.”
“In the past some parents have been concerned about the possible sharing of explicit material in school with their young children. We are calling for a strong focus on the relationships, respect and equality aspect of SRE when taught in school and, of course, for all SRE to be age appropriate. It must go hand in hand with resources for women’s support services for girls who disclose abuse.”
The petition is supported and being shared widely by many people including the following and expects to reach 1000s of signature in the next few days.
Mumsnet Co-founder Justine Roberts said:
“Mumsnet users are clear: they want comprehensive, compulsory sex and relationships education, and as children get older they want it to address topics like pornography, sexting, sexual violence, and meaningful consent. Both boys and girls can be vulnerable to peer pressure and abuse, and good SRE helps them to recognise the building blocks of healthy, happy relationships. Mumsnet has long called for SRE to be updated to reflect the internet age - and for teachers to be supported in delivering it - and we're delighted to be backing this important campaign.”
Writer and journalist Caitlin Moran said:
“As Marianne Wright-Eldman said, You cannot be what you cannot see. If our children are not learning at school about love, and relationships, and how sex can be something other than the cold, unhappy, stunt-pornography being watched on a million mobile phones at the back of the bus, then how else will it come into their lives?
“Currently we leave this vital information to chance, or the lucky circumstances of a child's supportive and enlightened family. This clearly isn't fair - and it impacts on the children who would need this information the most.”
18 year old Londoner Yas Necati who left school in June this year said:
“Having just finished school, I know firsthand just how useless our SRE currently is. Learning about biology and STIs is important stuff, but we can't forget the social side of sex. The curriculum seems to completely ignore the ‘R’ in SRE, leaving information about relationships completely untouched. Meanwhile, sexual abuse is rising amongst young people, and false ideas about sex from the media and online sources are becoming more available than ever. We need to challenge the sex negative culture we've created, and we need schools to help us do this. Please don't leave my generation uninformed. We deserve better.”
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 EVAW Coalition's expert members are also publishing a Violence Against Women & Girls Factsheet for Schools today (24 September), backed by the Department for Education, which pulls together for the first time information on the different forms of abuse women and girls disproportionately experience alongside advice on teaching resources for each and supporting girls who disclose abuse.
Laura Bates concluded:
“The provision of good quality SRE is a fundamental right and is too important to be left to chance. This is now widely recognised by politicians and by the public at large. We hope to see an election debate which reflects that.”
Holly Dustin concluded:
“We don’t leave essential instruction on other life skills to chance. The time has come for this common sense measure to be implemented.”
The petition is at www.change.org/srenow and campaigners are tweeting it with #SREnow
Read more about the campaign here.
Notes to Editors:
- 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.
- 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).
- The Everyday Sexism Project has gathered thousands of testimonies from women and girls, and some men and boys, about young women’s experiences. Many describe confusion and misunderstandings around rape and consent, having heard phrases such as 'rape is a compliment really' in the classroom. Others explain that online porn has left them afraid of having sex because they have seen videos where women are crying and getting hurt, and there is no information elsewhere to offset the idea that this is the expected norm. 60% of young people say they are first exposed to pornography aged 14 years or younger (BBC/ICM poll 20124), and young people's exposure to pornography is linked to unrealistic attitudes about sex, beliefs that women are sex objects and sexist attitudes (Children’s Commissioner).
- 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.
5. The Labour Party announced a commitment to making SRE compulsory as a way of preventing abuse in Autumn 2012; the Lib Dems recently announced their support for compulsory SRE; Education Secretary Nicky Morgan recently said in a media interview (Times Educational Supplement) that she is willing to hear the arguments for changing the rules and requirements around SRE; Green MP Caroline Lucas has tabled a Private Members Bill which would make PSHE, including SRE, compulsory.