MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 13-Sep-16 09:58:12

Guest post: "Violence against women and girls is rising - so why isn't SRE compulsory?"

As a report by the Women and Equalities Committee exposes the scale of sexual harassment in schools, Holly Dustin says the government must do more to tackle sexism from an early age

Holly Dustin

Co-founder, Centre for Gender Equal Media

Posted on: Tue 13-Sep-16 09:58:12

(64 comments )

Lead photo

"It’s important that a new SRE law has the specific aim of tackling sexism and abuse."

My son is seven; he’s just entered Year Two and this year will receive Relationships and Sex Education (SRE) for the first time. It’s not a moment too soon, in my view. I want my son to grow up in a world where boys have respect for girls (and vice versa), where ‘slut’, ‘sket’ and ‘slag’ are historical curiosities, and where school corridors and playgrounds are places where girls are not in constant fear of having their bottoms pinched or breasts grabbed. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go - - but early SRE as part of a broader package of measures could make a real difference.

When I wrote about this topic for Mumsnet almost two years ago, Jimmy Savile's life of sexual offending had recently been exposed, and the Rochdale and Rotherham child sexual exploitation cases were in the headlines.

Since then, it feels more urgent than ever that we tackle entrenched sexism and put a stop to abusive behaviour by boys and men before it starts. In the last two years, evidence of the sexual harassment and abuse that girls experience in schools – including rape – has been piling up. It emerged this year that just under a third of female rape victims are under 16. Further disturbing sexual exploitation cases in Rochdale and elsewhere have come to court and there are official inquiries into child sexual abuse in the family environment (where it is most commonly is perpetrated) and institutions. Campus rape is also under the spotlight.

I want my son to grow up in a world where boys have respect for girls, where ‘slut', ‘sket' and ‘slag' are historical curiosities, and where school corridors and playgrounds are places where girls are not in constant fear of having their bottoms pinched or breasts grabbed.


We are starting to recognise the role our culture and media play in creating the backdrop against which violence happens. The impact of misogynistic and often racist pornography on children continues to be a driver for action and there is an inquiry underway on sexism in advertising. Abusive sexting and ’revenge porn’ are rarely out of the news, and female politicians from across the divide have joined forces to launch Reclaim the Internet to tackle social media abuse.

The national strategy on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) – with a clear aim of prevention - is now in its third incarnation. There have been international developments, too: the UK, along with other Nations, must now implement the UN’s Global Goals, with a specific target on girls’ safety.

These strategies are to be welcomed, but with violence against women and girls on the rise, it is baffling that there is no law requiring schools in England to teach children about sexual consent or respectful, non-abusive relationships.

Of course, SRE can be taught badly. Girls can be told they just need to say ‘no’ more clearly, or warned of the risks of taking naked pictures - rather than both girls and boys being taught about the importance of gaining consent. It’s important, then, that a new SRE law has the specific aim of tackling sexism and abuse. Children need to learn about sexism, gender stereotypes, respect and consensual, non-abusive behaviour.

Government guidance and school policies (for example on safeguarding, bullying, behaviour and equality) need to set out clearly how to address violence against girls, backed up with ongoing training for teachers and staff so that they are implemented. We need ongoing programmes and campaigns that seek to change harmful behaviour and attitudes. Ofsted has a woeful reputation in this area and needs to step up, too. Critically, schools need to work with, and fund, experts in specialist organisations such as Rape Crisis Centres and other women’s groups to deliver projects that tackle sexism and sexual consent, but also provide support to the girls and young women experiencing violence and abuse.

School isn’t the only place children absorb information and attitudes. We also need a consistent approach to tackling sexism across different parts of the media – whether in films, music videos or advertising. Maybe this all spells the need for a more joined up approach right across government to tackling sexism and discrimination against women and girls? Without this, we haven’t even begun the journey to the world I want my son to grow up in.

By Holly Dustin

Twitter: @HDBrighton

Ninasimoneinthemorning Tue 13-Sep-16 12:45:48

I whole heartedly agree with your post. SRE should be compulsory and with specially trained teachers so the the lessons are delivered correctly.

Today's culture of quick access to porn on iPhones has a lot to answer for in regards to children's views on what's real, appropriate and acceptable.

Great post:

Ninasimoneinthemorning Tue 13-Sep-16 12:46:13

**smart phones

booklooker Tue 13-Sep-16 13:31:00

Violence against women and girls is rising

Is this an established fact? Or is the reporting of violence rising.

It makes a big difference.

manfrommanchester Tue 13-Sep-16 13:34:43

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manfrommanchester Tue 13-Sep-16 13:39:26

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Lancelottie Tue 13-Sep-16 13:47:52

Ah. I see that the reasoned voice about why boys think it's OK to harass girls has arrived on this thread.

Lancelottie Tue 13-Sep-16 13:48:56

I'm assuming, though, that ManfromM is a somewhat badly done spoof.

Lottapianos Tue 13-Sep-16 14:14:47

<waves from politically-correct Planet Feminist>

I love it when people talk about 'the feminists' hmm

Great post about SRE. The consequences of constant access and exposure to pornography is terrifying for young people, or anyone for that matter. I'm very aware that more and more gets piled on schools but this is seriously important stuff, and certainly not something that every parent will address in a healthy way, or at all. SRE for all children from Year 1, at an age appropriate level. Zero exceptions. Its the only way forward.

VestalVirgin Tue 13-Sep-16 14:36:52

Is this an established fact? Or is the reporting of violence rising.

Probably both the reporting and the violence outside the house is rising.

There is (hopefully) less rape in absolute numbers, because men don't get a "get out of jail" card if they are married to the woman they raped, at least not automatically, and women are less willing to let the men they are in relationships with rape them regularly. Same for all kinds of domestic violence, women are less willing to tolerate it.

On the other hand, "date" rape might be on the rise, as well as all forms of sexual assault, as males are increasingly taught that molesting female strangers is okay. (Whereas previously, only some kinds of female strangers, like prostituted women, were acceptable victims.)

In the end, does it matter? It is obvious we have to take both steps to make it easier and less dangerous to report the crimes, and steps to reduce the overall violence.

I am not so sure that this "Oh, by the way boys, rape is bad!" education scheme will improve things much. Surely, they already know that rape is bad. It seems more likely that they just don't care because they are inable to see woman as human.

Perhaps including more books written by, and about, women in the curriculum, encouraging boys to emphatize with realistic female characters, would be more efficient in the long run.

And sorry to say it, but cautioning girls against taking pictures of themselves naked, or letting any male with a camera into their bedroom, is probably more helpful than just telling them that THEY should "gain consent", and the boys that they should "gain consent". (By which means? Some men would say that they have consent because they bullied a woman long enough so she said "yes")
A rapist attitude cannot be cured by telling males that rape is bad. On the other hand, telling girls that, sadly, they live in a world where many males will want to, and try to, rape and sexually assault them, would result in them at least knowing the danger.

ErrolTheDragon Tue 13-Sep-16 14:48:06

manfrommanchester seems to be a worked example making the case for compulsory SRE.

HermioneWeasley Tue 13-Sep-16 14:55:16

Agree compulsory SRE can only be a positive step, but we also need to look at how women and girls are being required to ignore their instincts and boundaries about sharing intimate space with men

The women & equalities commission is seriously confused

VestalVirgin Tue 13-Sep-16 14:59:33

manfrommanchester seems to be a worked example making the case for compulsory SRE.

I doubt that his ... problems could be fixed by an explanation of consent. Even if you explained to him that a "yes" that is the result of constant whining doesn't count as consent.

As I said, those males have to be taught that women are human beings who have feelings, just like them. And this needs to permeate the whole curriculum, as the boys will then go home to watch porn, which teaches them the "women as objects" ideology.

Look at this study: restructure.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/white-people-lack-empathy-for-brown-people-brain-research-shows/

It can be scientifically proven that racism works this way, and I have no doubt that a similar experiment with women instead of brown men, would produce similar, probably more extreme results.

Men HAVE to lack empathy for women, otherwise they couldn't watch violent porn. They would feel the women's pain. They would feel it all the more because they know it is real.

HermioneWeasley Tue 13-Sep-16 15:07:50

Glosswitch has a really interesting take on this in the new statesman today. On my phone so can't link

Ninasimoneinthemorning Tue 13-Sep-16 15:13:53

Actually really laughed in shock at manfrom posts.

Only 'girls' with low self esteem go for 'bad boys' (men that are fucked themselves) most adult women pick well adjusted 'normal' men. I'm bemused that an adult man actually believes that rubbish. Hopefully he hasn't got a long suffering poor wife or any children his attitude will rub off on to - horrible feeling he has though sad

VestalVirgin Tue 13-Sep-16 15:17:17

Hopefully he hasn't got a long suffering poor wife or any children his attitude will rub off on to - horrible feeling he has though sad

Well, I fear he has a wife, as otherwise, he wouldn't be able to believe that women go for "bad boys" ... he certainly does not qualify as good guy.

LastGirlOnTheLeft Tue 13-Sep-16 16:09:38

I was going to say that men and boys - such as male teachers - need to speak up about their fellow males' violence against women...far too often men stay silent or else ask 'Where are the feminists'? As if it is down to women to stop men from being violent towards us. But then manfrommanchester came on, so maybe it is better if men stay mute. hmm

I am sick to the back teeth of men being so noisy and vocal about everything under the sun, APART FROM their sickening violence towards women and girls.

scallopsrgreat Tue 13-Sep-16 17:31:36

Glosswitch's article in the New Statesman

And yy Holly, to this being tackled on several fronts including media.

VestalVirgin Tue 13-Sep-16 17:45:10

Thanks for the link scallops. My thoughts exactly.

More thoughts: "Consent" is used in a sick and twisted way to justify violence against women already, and I fear those lessons on how to "gain consent" will make this worse

Apparently, men already demand women to state their "consent" in text messages - so they can get away with rape? Why would a woman want to have sex with a man who doesn't trust her to not falsely accuse him of rape, when she has to trust him (and all men she has sex with) to not rape her, and has no way of making sure she won't be victim blamed if he rapes?

MypocketsarelikeNarnia Tue 13-Sep-16 20:34:55

There's an Everyday Sexism petition on this -

www.change.org/p/education-secretary-and-minister-for-women-and-equalities-justine-greening-make-sex-and-relationships-education-sre-compulsory-in-all-schools

SideEye Tue 13-Sep-16 22:22:40

Parents should be allowed to withdraw their children if they want. They may wish to teach their children themselves about this - and that would be their prerogative.

ErrolTheDragon Tue 13-Sep-16 22:32:34

Or they may want to keep their children in ignorance.hmm

MypocketsarelikeNarnia Tue 13-Sep-16 22:34:59

Parents may want to teach their children Maths or History but no one ever suggests removing children from those classes do they? I wonder why parents are so keen to get all up in it when it's about sex?

OutsSelf Tue 13-Sep-16 22:53:14

"Withholding" sex. Fgs. As if you are entitled to my body and I am withholding access. Dfod. Women "withhold" because they do not want to have sex with you for obvious reasons.

VestalVirgin Tue 13-Sep-16 23:02:32

Or they may want to keep their children in ignorance.

This.

Even though I don't really believe in this thing, for reasons that are perfectly described in Glosswitch's article, I would want my children, if I had any, to be there for those lessons, so that they know what their peers are taught about consent.
Knowledge is power, after all.
And there need to be clever kids to challenge the notion that men should just dial down their misogyny to a socially acceptable level instead of learning that women are human.

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