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Why compulsory RSE is so important

This International Women’s Day (IWD) Kat Tremlett, Professionals Online Safety Helpline practitioner, looks at compulsory sex and relationships education (RSE) and the positive impact it could have on future generations of women and girls, but more importantly men and boys perceptions of socially acceptable norms.

According to Childnet’s Project DeShame report (Dec 2017) 80% of young people aged 13-17 in the UK have “witnessed people their age using terms like ‘sket’ or ‘slut’ to describe girls” in a derogative way and over half of UK respondents aged 13-17 years (51%) said they have witnessed people their age circulating nude or nearly nude images of someone they know, while 6% have been the target of this behaviour. It’s more important now than ever to ensure that every young person has access to RSE.

The DfE recently published its consultation proposal around compulsory RSE in schools, ( which will allow parents to withdraw their children from RSE classes. We believe every young person should have access to well taught RSE as not having access to it can, at best narrow the mind-set of a young person about sexuality, relationships and gender and, at the worst be an indicator of a potential safeguarding matter.

So why shout about this now? Obviously International Women's Day provides the perfect platform for advocating a better education for all in the pursuit of diminishing violence against women and girls and of course to men and boys. But it’s more than this. The Professionals Online Safety Helpline saw a 280% rise in cases involving peer to peer sexual harassment in 2017 highlighting the very real need for compulsory RSE in schools.

Cases which previously may have been about an isolated incident involving non consensual sharing of youth produced sexual imagery or harassment have become increasingly complex with several different factors to unpick and work through. To read more about what we can do to tackle online sexual harassment in particular, please read this blog.

In part we have to give credit to positive campaigns such as the #MeToo in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, #NeverOK across university guilds in the UK, Time’s Up in the US and Dare 2 Care in the UK raising awareness and highlighting the sheer scale of the problem and making sure everyone knows it’s simply not OK. Movements such as these empower people, young and old alike, to come forward and share their stories which in turn for us means a rise in the number of cases involving sexual harassment.

But in order to stop people from having to share these horrific stories in the first placed education has to be the answer: not just learning what abuse looks like in a relationship but also what a healthy relationship looks like; what the laws in the UK state with regard to misogyny, stalking and harassment, sexual violence, equality and British values so that young people know where they stand, what is OK and more importantly what’s not.

Ignorance should not be an excuse, but being withdrawn from RSE could result in young people not recognising when they are at risk of abuse or identify a harmful behaviour. Perhaps, not having access to well-taught RSE could be cited as a reason for not knowing that they were doing something wrong in future.

So, this IWD let’s spread the message that compulsory RSE with no option to opt out is the only solution moving forward if we want to put an end to sexual harassment in the UK.