Posted: 11 October 2016

Sex education in a digital world

The Digital Economy Bill is being debated in Parliament this week. The bill will introduce a requirement on commercial pornographic websites to have age verification methods in place to stop children under the age of 18 viewing pornography.

We support this new measure and believe that the bill should go further by ensuring that children are educated about the damaging impact accessing explicit material online can have on their lives.

Protecting children from online sexualised materials

There is extensive evidence that children’s perceptions of sex, consent, gender roles and relationships are changing as a result of the online pornography they are exposed to. The viewing of pornographic materials has been linked to unrealistic attitudes to sex and young people’s engagement in risk taking behaviours such as having unprotected sex or ‘sexting’.

As it currently stands, the Digital Economy Bill focusses on preventing access to online pornography through the introduction of robust age verification methods for websites publishing pornographic material. Though this is a step in the right direction, the new measure will not be sufficient in preventing children from accessing inappropriate sexual content online.

Therefore, we will be calling on Government to amend legislation to ensure that this measure is pursued hand in hand with good quality statutory sex and relationship education to teach children about the risks of accessing and viewing sexualised online content.

The need for high quality statutory sex and relationship education

Last month, the Women and Equalities Committee published a report exposing the extent of sexual harassment and sexual violence in British schools. The Committee found that 59% of girls and young women aged 13-21 said in 2014 that they had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year.

Our own conversations with children have shown that both children and teachers alike need further guidance in how to address issues of sexual harassment in the classroom:

 

Sexual harassment in the classroom


'Year 7’s mainly get bullied and called. Teachers never acknowledge it.'

Secondary School Girl

(Young people use the term ‘calling’ or being ‘called’ to describe inappropriate comments made towards them, primarily about appearance).

'People don’t always listen because you could say you’re being called but they do nothing' –

Secondary age girl

'When you send us home for having inappropriate clothes you are saying how we look is more important than our education' -

Secondary age girl

'We’re expected to be perfect, like Barbie dolls or something and if we don’t then we get bullied.' -

Secondary School Girl

'Because the girls feel pressured by the boys that they should look a particular way and that leads girls into depression or low self-esteem and makes girls feel ugly or worthless.' -

Secondary School Girl

'Most of the time girls are expected to be really girly and wear lots of make-up instead of being able to play sports and be themselves.' -

Secondary School Girl

'You walk past and the year 11’s they’re like, which is the fittest out of you lot, that one’s the fittest mmm I want a bit of that.' -

Year 7 girl

'Because the girls feel pressured by the boys that they should look a particular way and that leads girls into depression or low self-esteem and makes girls feel ugly or worthless.' -

Secondary School Girl

To tackle the alarming inconsistency in how schools deal with sexual harassment and violence, they called for a number of changes to be made including that Sex and Relationship Education should be a statutory subject and the guidance sent to schools to support them should be updated to include reference to pornography and other inappropriate online content.

We support the recommendations made by the group of MPs and believe that the Government must act urgently on these, including making sure that all young people, across all ages and genders, receive age-appropriate education about healthy relationships and online risks through statutory sex and relationships lessons.

Read our submission to the Committee where we have shared what young people have told us through our consultations and projects as well as learning from our research.

 

 

By Kadra Abdinasir - Policy team
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