Ťhe last few weeks have seen an unprecedented level of public debate about the issue of violence against women and girls, following the death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who went missing as she walked home from a friend’s house earlier this month.
An outpouring of grief and anger from women, who shared stories of abuse, prompted the government to announce a programme of better street lighting and CCTV, as well as a much-derided policy of placing plainclothes police officers in bars to keep women safe.
Experts suggest those policies are little more than a sticking plaster but organisations working in the sector agree that well-funded and comprehensive relationships and sex education (RSE) is a crucial preventative measure.
在九月, relationships education became statutory in all primary schools and RSE became mandatory in secondary schools in England. While parents can chose to opt children under 15 out of specific sex education classes, all children in primary and secondary schools should be following the new curriculum.
Research from the Sex Education Forum suggests it works – and that children who receive good RSE are more likely to report abuse, delay having sex, have consensual sex, use contraception and have fewer unplanned pregnancies.
So what does good relationships education look like, and how can parents begin meaningful conversations with their children about such difficult topics? We asked four experts for their advice.
As early as possible in an age-appropriate way, is the consensus. “If you don’t start when they’re little, you can’t teach about sex and relationships effectively,” says Jenny Barksfield, the deputy chief executive of the PSHE Association. “You can’t start teaching about consent effectively when someone’s 14 或者 15 if they’ve never learned that you have to ask permission before you take something or before you touch someone.”
From year 1, parents can supplement relationships education by teaching children about boundaries, 尊重, consent and their own agency, says Barksfield. That can be as simple as discussing how everyone’s body is private to them, and giving children the right words to talk about their body parts.
“Children need to learn to name their body parts accurately, because that helps keeps them safe,“ 她说. “If they can name body parts and know they have agency over them, they can then talk to people and report things and be understood.”
Seek advice about what is age-appropriate if you are unsure, adds Charlene Douglas, a relationship therapist: “You can do lasting damage if you scare a child. Inform yourself about ways to talk about these issues without fear.”
“Schools that are doing this really well engage and communicate with parents proactively, like having parents evenings and workshops,” says Barksfield.
“It works best when there’s a partnership between schools and parents – if what you’ve been learning in the classroom is reinforced by the conversations you have at home, that’s when it’s going to be most effective.”
Douglas encourages parents worried about the best way to approach talking about sex to speak to teachers. “Most secondary schools now have an on-site counsellor, or at least access to a counsellor,“ 她说. “That helps you have those conversations in an emotionally safe environment.”
Lucy Emmerson, the director of the Sex Education Forum , says the idea of “the chat” – perhaps about periods for girls, and safe sex for boys – is unhelpful. She instead encourages parents to talk about sex and relationships little and often. This could be by using distancing techniques, such as picture books with younger children or talking about storylines in dramas, billboards or advertising with older children.
With teenagers, Dr Elly Hanson, a clinical psychologist, suggests asking open questions rather than laying down the law. “What can be helpful is talking about somebody else’s experience, not directly looking at their behaviour,“ 她说, 添加: “The physical version of that is having a conversation in the car, that is often much easier.”
“Even if it feels a bit frightening, the alternative is more frightening, which is finding out about something later that you didn’t know about,” says Emmerson. “Taking the first step as an adult and asking questions and inviting conversation is going to be safer for everyone in the long run.”
Hansonsays acknowledging that a conversation is awkward can help. “We put pressure on ourselves to have all the right words and say things in the right way, but sometimes a bit of clumsiness can actually be a really positive thing.”
Pornography is often “the elephant in the room” and left out of conservations about sex and healthy relationships, says Hanson. “People tend to focus on the idea that porn is unrealistic, but it is much more than that – it is a handbook for violence against girls and women,“ 她说.
Recent research revealed parents were vastly underestimating how much porn their children were watching, while most children had viewed pornography they found disturbing or overly aggressive.
Internet service providers can put a block across all devices and that decision can be a starting point for conversations, says Hanson. “Putting a barrier in the way makes it more difficult at the very least.”
She also suggests talking to young people about pornography websites’ business model, and says online courses can help guide conversations. Talking openly about this can help children make their own choices: “No one likes being taken for a mug,“ 她说.
“Gender and power dynamics needs to be a thread throughout the relationships and sex education,” says Emmerson, who suggests looking at – and challenging – stereotypes in the media about masculinity and femininity.
Research shows that female carers talk more with girls about relationships, sex and growing up, 她说. “Boys are missing out on conversations with adults because parents are more reluctant to have those conversations with boys. 但, 你懂, arguably they need it even more. The burden of information and responsibility can’t just be put on the girls to manage all of this.”
Hanson suggests exploring how to challenge sexism or sexual bullying and harassment that they might come across at school, within their peer groups, without using fear or guilt as a tactic. “If young men just feel guilty for being male, it’s not fair and it’s not helpful,“ 她说.
反而, we should talk about what good sex looks like. “Talk about chemistry, connection, appreciation of one another, versus using another person’s body for sexual pleasure and ticking the consent box – this is not just about preventing violence but having satisfying sexual experiences for everyone,“ 她说.