Last month, The Everyday Sexism Project and the End Violence Against Women Coalition launched their #SRENow campaign, and Hollaback London would like to state our full support for their call to make Sex and Relationships Education compulsory in all schools. We believe every child deserves simple, clear information about their rights, consent, and healthy relationships. Just as education is a fundamental human right, so too is education about sex and relationships, about our own bodies and how to respect other bodies.
The Women and Equalities Committee’s report into sexual harassment in schools speaks to the shocking truth that many girls and non-binary young people experience. A key part of Hollaback London’s work is story sharing, so we welcome the fact that the core of the report and call for #SRENow is based on what young people have told us. The report highlights how many young people, particularly girls, experience a daily routine of normalised harassment; from catcalls to groping to what are typically classified as more serious sex crimes. 5500 sex crimes in UK schools were reported to the police in 2012-2015, including 600 rapes. Taking into account the average length of the school term, that adds up to one rape reported in a UK school every school day. It’s impossible for young people to be confident in their rights to their own body when information about healthy sexual experiences isn’t available, and the information they’re getting from harmful stereotypes seen everyday in the media only serves to confuse and contort ideas about sex and relationships. Slutshaming and “laddish” peer pressure are currently accepted as core factors of the teenage school experience, and that doesn’t need to be the case.
A myth currently pervading about SRE is that our children are too young to be learning about sex, that this kind of education would intrude and teach them things they would have no prior experience of, that it could come dangerously early in their sexual lives. This simply isn’t true: A recent BBC survey revealed that a quarter of 12-year olds and 60% of 14-year olds had seen online pornography. At Hollaback London, we regularly receive reports of street harassment, workplace harassment, and classroom harassment – perpetrated by fellow students and by older men around the school – from teenage girls. It’s entirely possible to deliver this education in simple, age-appropriate ways, and there are already expertly trained outside organisations and specialised PSHE teachers well equipped to deliver this information, if only the resources and mandate in the curriculum were instated.
To end street harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls, we know that we need a cultural, social shift in attitudes to these acts. This starts at schools, when children are beginning to explore their sexual identities and beginning to understand their rights to their own bodies. #SRENow have done the research and every expert says compulsory Sex and Relationships Education is where we need to start. It can no longer be left up to chance whether a girl can identify if she has been raped or not, if a boy knows how to respond to a partner who says “no”, if an LGBTQIA child has any information on how to have healthy sex that isn’t just a description of heterosexual reproduction – these biological basics are currently the only thing schools are required to teach.
We firmly believe that if people were better educated from youth about communicating in a healthy way about sex and relationships, enabled to have healthy understandings of their own sexual identity and the diversity of others’ identities, to have clear understandings of consent and boundaries, the fight to end street harassment would be one big step closer to success.
Demand compulsory SRE now by signing the campaign’s petition, emailing Education Secretary Justine Greening or tweeting her. Find out more at sre.now.org and read the open letter to the Prime Minister and Education Secretary signed by Hollaback London’s co-founder, Bryony Beynon.