Husband of murdered Jill Meagher: 'Children need to learn about sexual consent at school'
Murder victim's husband warns of porn's effects
Tom Meagher, whose wife Jill was brutally raped and murdered in Australia, says children as young as 12 should attend school-based 'sexual consent' classes.
He insists that the all-pervasive nature of violent online pornography is "destroying" young people's emotional development.
Specially designed classes are now needed to teach what constitutes "a real relationship," he says.
The prevalence of child rape and other acts of extreme sexual torture is poisoning young minds and thwarting their cognitive development, he has claimed.
Mr Meagher's comments come as University College Dublin (UCD) plans to introduce mandatory sexual consent classes for the first time in September.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Meagher said children were now accessing unsuitable online material at an increasingly young age.
He stressed that urgent action was required in the first year of secondary school to deal with the problem.
"I think you can teach about consent from a very young age, without it being very explicit. The instruction techniques must not be too graphic and it should be done is an age-appropriate way.
"I've given talks to teenagers in transition year around the age of 16. But I think we've reached a stage where we need to get the message through to young people as soon they start secondary school, at about the age of 12 or 13.
"At that stage, we can then introduce ideas around boundaries and relationships and then add to it as teenagers get older, making the instruction more relevant as they grow up.
"They need to learn what constitutes a healthy sexual relationship and what it means to respect boundaries."
He said the number of students who experience sexual assaults during college was "startling". Mr Meagher also suggested that there was a lot confusion among third-level students as to what constitutes "appropriate behaviour."
This stems from the proliferation and consistent exposure of young people to extreme online pornography.
"In the early years of college, it's not necessarily that people don't know what exactly is consent but they suddenly have to adapt to a very charged environment when they start university.
"This whole problem is a societal issue and we can't keep brushing it under the carpet. The availability of online pornography - and the violence inherent in much of it - is quite damaging. The nature of some of what's out there is shocking.
"The typical man and woman role is exaggerated in a lot of porn. The dominance of the male and the submissive role of the female are paramount in a lot of what is on view.
"Studies also show that one of the top searches for internet pornography is now targeted at very young women in their teens."
Ellen O'Malley Dunlop, outgoing CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said the first stages of relationship instruction should start even earlier, ideally in primary school.
She said: "The pornography business is worth more than the film and music industries combined. All classes must be age-appropriate, but we do need to teach young people the meaning of consent from a very young age.
"Research shows that young boys are accessing explicit images and videos from the age of nine. Their first experience of a relationship with another person is at 16.
"We should not forget that this is all taking place during a time when teenagers can be at their most vulnerable."
UCD Students' Union (UCDSU) has called for increased funding to support mandatory sexual-consent workshops. It said: "Funding must be increased to UCD counselling services and UCD should further commit to reviewing the need for a dedicated support service for survivors of sexual violence, following a comprehensive survey of student experience."
NUI Galway has introduced 'smart consent' workshops for some of its students on a pilot basis this academic year.