Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Rape prevention: response from Education

[trigger warning]

Here's the reply from the Department of Education, which I received yesterday, on rape prevention (with minor edits for readability on the web, that do not affect meaning, and contact details removed)

Thank you for your email dated 4 July 2011 asking for information about the department's role in safeguarding teenagers from abuse. I have been asked to reply.

The Department for Education is committed to making a strong contribution to the cross government Action Plan on Violence Against Women and Girls which is led by the Home Office. This reflects our responsibility for safeguarding young people and our strategic leadership of the education system.

The Department`s actions include:

  • Taking forward recommendations from the independent Reg Bailey report on sexualisation and commercialisation of young people.
  • Considering the teaching of sexual consent within the Personal Social and Health Education Review. The issue of consent is already covered within the Department's guidance on sex and relationships education (SRE) which can be viewed from our website.
  • Anti bullying and behaviour - every school must have measures to encourage good behaviour, respect, and to prevent all forms of bullying amongst pupils. These measures must be part of the school's behaviour policy. Following consultation a final version of guidance for school leaders and governors will be published at the end of July 2011.

They also suggested I contacted the Ministry of Justice, which I'd already done.

The guidance is fairly sparse on consent, as it happens. There's a couple of bullet points on helping people 'avoid being abused' (which is not great wording), half a bullet point on "avoiding [...] exploiting others".

The concept that school children might be committing rape is entirely ignored, though the document does contain a fair amount of information on the possibility of them being victims.

The guidance (2000) predates the repeal of the heterosexist "Section 28" (2000 in Scotland, 2003 elsewhere), so contains the bizarre phrase "There should be no direct promotion of sexual orientation." which I'm fairly sure is universally interpreted as "only directly promote monogamous heterosexuality".

There's also a note about what the National Curriculum contains on the subject, which is mainly about the biology of sexual reproduction, and the enforced requirement to learn some oversimplified rubbish about "sex determination" in humans that very harmfully erases the existence of trans and intersex people (and so makes it harder for people to accept their existence later on). I understand why topics need to be simplified for school, but there's "simplified" and there's "outright wrong".

It'll certainly be better than whatever it replaced - I went through SRE well before this guidance was introduced, and I don't recall consent being mentioned at all. (In fact, they tried very hard to avoid mentioning that sex might involve people1) - but it definitely needs some significant updating.

Here's the review they mentioned - they opened a consultation on it on the 21 July. I strongly recommend that anyone with an interest in improving teaching about consent replies to the review (which will be open until the end of November 2011) to make their points. If you have relevant evidence and research papers, especially recent ones, make sure that you include them in your response (and share them here, too, if you like, so that other people can use them too).

Many of the questions in the consultation are asking about case studies from schools, but they explicitly say you don't need to answer every question - many of them are more general and can be answered by people other than PSHE teachers.

I'll post my own response to the consultation once I've written it.


1 Not in a pro-masturbation way (that wasn't mentioned at all), in a "this is an abstract rather than physical activity" way.