Once again, I find myself proud to be a part of Girlguiding, as we have just undersigned the Telegraph's campaign for better sex education in schools as part of the national curriculum. I agree, as I have stated in support of Campaign For Consent, that better sex and relationship education in this country. But a conversation that came out of this discussion had me worried.
It was suggested that the issues of consent, sexual assault and rape should be addressed as sex education, under that banner. Although enthusiastic consent can be partly discussed in terms of healthy relationships, I don't feel comfortable with this overarching banner.
Why not? Because it seems to fit, doesn't it?
Well, yes. And that is part of the problem that needs to be addressed. Our society currently has such a phenomenal misunderstanding of what rape, sexual assault and consent are, that it is not just a part of "sex education".
We need to show that sexual assault and rape do not equate to sex in any way. Penetration does not equal intercourse. The blurred lines between sexual encounters and sexual assault in our society are harmful to those who experience it and to those around them. In a world that classes rape as a sexual act, women who feel they are unattractive cannot fathom that they might have been assaulted, or feel ridiculous for reporting it. In a world that classes rape as a sexual act, it is glorified and revered in the media. And in a world that classes rape as a sexual act, both men and women are reduced to the worst possible stereotypes of their genders. If these beliefs and reactions are prevalent in society, they are perpetuated and reinforced, leading to a seemingly unbreakable chain.
By including rape, sexual violence and consent as part of sex education in schools, rather than as part of the wider PSHCE (personal, social, health and citizenship education) curriculum, we risk reinforcing the notion that violence is a sexual act rather than one of control. We create yet another generation who fail to see the distinction, and we fail in our duty of empowerment.
When I took my Senior Section members to the Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre in July, they thought they were pretty clued up. But even they assumed that a woman could not be raped by her partner, as she had already consented to sex. They assumed that if a woman consented, then changed her mind, the man had every right to continue, as she had agreed to sex initially. These are the effects of the blurred lines caused by classing rape as a sexual act rather than one of power and control.
It is important that young people are aware of consent within relationships and, with that in mind, it should be discussed as part of healthy relationship education, but much better that than reducing a serious, violent crime to "sex" once again.