Children of 11 are too young to be taught about rape
The head of Education and Training at the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has said that children as young as 11 should be taught the difference between rape and sexual consent.
I have to confess, I was shocked when I heard this. Eleven seems too young. I know some 11-year-olds are more mature and worldly wise than others, but the ones I know certainly seem to be fairly innocent.
Am I delusional? Am I missing the fact that they know a lot more about sex than I think? Perhaps I am, but I genuinely don't believe that many of the 11-year-olds I've met would know anything about rape. Don't get me wrong, I think it is extremely important for teenagers to be made aware of the difference between rape and sexual consent. In fact, I think it's vital that they learn this, especially with all the violence and pornography so easily available online, but 11 just seems too young to me.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) are taking their lead from the UK, where the Education secretary Nicky Morgan has just proposed lessons (which schools and parents can choose to opt in to) where pupils as young as 11 will be taught the difference between rape and consensual sex.
Morgan said that the teachers will be told to "challenge any narrow view of rape as an attack by a stranger" and inform children that most rapes are committed by people known to the victim. The proposal has been met with a lot of resistance from concerned parents in the UK.
While I do think it's important that lessons on consent should begin before people become sexually active, surely it's important that children are also reminded that sexual activity is illegal in Ireland for young people under the age of 17. The DRCC executive also suggests that pre-teens should be encouraged to discuss with their teachers what they have learned about sex from watching pornography.
My problem with this is that in a class of 30 kids, you will have a complete mixture of sexual maturity. Some 11-year-olds will be clueless while others might be much more advanced in their sexual knowledge.
But do we want the more naive children to hear about things they aren't yet aware of? Do we want an innocent 11-year-old to even know the word rape if he doesn't yet understand properly how babies are made?
The school yard is still the same - the kids with older siblings are the ones with 'all the info' on sex. The other thing that hasn't changed that much is the vast amount of misinformation children get in the playground.
The school yard has always been and still is a place where you hear tall tales and myths about sex and sexuality.
Obviously, we don't want our children to end up confused and scared about sex, so sex education in school is important, but it has to be tailored to the age and maturity of the children.
The DRCC is, understandably, concerned about the "sexualisation" of young children and I can see their point.
Leonie O'Dowd, head of education and training at the DRCC, said the overall issue of what constitutes "sexual consent and sexual violence" should now be confronted at "a very early stage".
"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."
O'Dowd also drew attention to the disturbing trend of 'sexting'. She said children in sixth class in primary school are now engaged in this growing practice.
And while many young people are now foolishly texting sexual photos of themselves, parents need to be careful of any photos they post online too.
The European Report On Child Sexual Exploitation warned in their report to parents that online images they post onto social networking sites of their own children can and are being used by people for sexual purposes.
This confirms a trend identified by CARI, the leading voluntary organization supporting victims of child sexual abuse, from calls to its Helpline. CEO Mary Flaherty urges parents to be cautious.
"Within the last two years, CARI has received an alarmingly high rate of phone calls regarding grooming and inappropriate attacks on children and young teens through the use of apps and the internet." All of us must be more vigilant about the images we post.
While I do think children need to learn about sex, it is imperative that the information they receive is age-appropriate and that they are not bombarded with information that they are not ready to process.
I'm afraid I think 11 is just too young for children to be taught the difference between rape and sexual consent. I believe teenagers would be much better able to process the information and be influenced by it.