Saturday 23 November 2019

Call for 11-year-olds to be taught about rape and sexual consent

Study shows 25pc of school-leavers have had an unwanted sexual experience.
Study shows 25pc of school-leavers have had an unwanted sexual experience.
Leonie O'Dowd

Mark O'Regan and Sam Griffin

CHILDREN as young as 11 should be taught the difference between rape and sexual consent, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) has said.

And youngsters should be encouraged to discuss pornography with their teachers, as far too many are relying on it to form their "sex education".

A renewed focus on some of the more contentious areas of sex education has been suggested, amid growing concern about the sexualisation of young children.

DRCC's head of education says such lessons should highlight the difference between consensual sex, and sex under coercion - including rape.

The call follows the announcement of radical changes proposed for sex education guidelines in British schools.

Leonie O'Dowd, head of education and training at the DRCC, said: "It needs to be addressed at a much younger age.

"We have a problem in that some young people are being coerced by their peers - and the influence of outside messages - into certain kinds of behaviour.

"They are very confused, and may be getting involved in something without realising the consequences.

"We're aware of the sensitivity of the issue, but it is absolutely essential that something is done."

She highlighted a study which revealed a quarter of school leavers have had an unwanted sexual experience.

Asked if she believes 11 is too young to discuss the issue of rape and sexual consent, she said: "They are not too young to be bombarded with sexual images and messages.

Exposed

"In some of the images they're exposed to, it's very difficult to know the degree to which there is consent. So it's not surprising they are very confused.

"The fact is many adults cannot differentiate between consensual sex and rape - so it is not surprising children are not able to."

However, she stressed the "defined modules" in schools must be "age-appropriate", and teachers involved in the classroom must be adequately resourced and trained.

"In the long term, if teachers are going to be delivering these lessons, it would need to be part of the teacher-training programme in college.

"The issue of sexual violence should be integrated into a wider programme about friendships, relationships and sexuality," she told the Irish Independent.

"We need to provide the skills to prevent sexual violence from happening."

Ms O'Dowd also drew attention to the disturbing trend of 'sexting' - sending sexually explicit images or videos. She said some children in sixth class in primary school are involved in this.

She also pointed out the growing availability of internet pornography, and how it is thwarting the sexual development of some teenagers.

This is compounded by the problem of pupils relying on pornography to be part of their sex education, she added.

National Parents Council Primary CEO Áine Lynch said it was "difficult to put an exact age" on when sex education should take place.

"One 11-year-old can be very different to another 11-year-old and what is happening in their families can be very different.

"I think within the primary school system, there is the Stay Safe programme for children in fifth and sixth class.

"It talks about touches, and inappropriate touches, and how to differentiate between the two. This is an age-appropriate was of addressing the issue."

A Department of Education spokeswoman said Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) is mandatory and delivered through the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme.

Around 30 minutes per week is recommended in primary schools and a minimum of one class period per week for junior cycle students.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre's National 24-hour helpline number is 1800 778888

Irish Independent

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