Between the ages of 3 to 10, I was sexually abused, raped and assaulted by my babysitter’s daughter. Fast forward a further 7 years, and I experienced 6 cases of sexual assault on public transport in London. Progress a further annum, and I was abused yet again, but this time by someone I was in a relationship with.
This contributed into the development of an eating disorderand body dysmorphia, and post recovery from anorexia, has left me with severe anxiety and PTSD, an inability to trust others easily, a fear of intimacy, and above all else: a burning desire to change the system and approach currently in place regarding how and when we start teaching adolescents about relationships, boundaries and sexual education.
We currently do not teach children what sexual abuse is, or sexual harassment and how to recognise it. We do not teach them the differences, the emotions that come in tow with such events, and the future implications. Furthermore, we do not provide them with easy to access resources and helplines to talk to someone should they themselves have experienced abuse or harassment. Because we like to think it doesn’t happen. We think, as adults, that we can protect our children. But it’s a harsh truth that - technology and media is the governing force now, not us. We can’t shut down the internet. We can’t ban adverts. We can’t stop clothing brands putting padding in children’s bras, or stop toys and games being sexualised. But what we can do is intervene earlier, and use the power of education to engrain from a young age the morals and understanding of relationships and sexual safety.
By making relationships and sex education compulsory in primary schools, not just secondary schools, we will be removing the very potent sense of stigma and shame surrounding sex. It. Is. Natural. It’s not about a child being ‘too young’ to know how biology works. We need to remove the concept that has permeated society for far too long that sex equals prudence. Subtract the conservatism surrounding sexuality. Erase the association of shame with intercourse, or any copulation for that matter. It is the lack of understanding that causes kids to put a black mark or and blot on anyone or anything related to sex. You think bullying and teasing doesn’t happen because a girl has developed earlier than her peers physically? Or that a girl is ridiculed if she starts her period and everyone in the class finds out? Even if a child has their ‘first kiss’, and they’re mocked - you don’t think that’s still an immature but important issue? It’s this mindset that can potentially evolve into abuse of power, and abuse of one another.
We need to teach children what abuse is - mentally, physically and emotionally. How they can see it, feel it, recognise it. Teach them safety and boundaries and build an awareness of the issue. No one is asking to tell a class of five year olds to watch a pornographic video, to learn how to use condoms, and to be able to recite every form of contraception under the sun. What I am saying is that sexual safety needs to be taught dominantly and prior to the biology of sex.
Because it’s when a child is unable to process an event that it becomes deformed in the mind, and shifts the emotions attached to concepts of sex, and the way in which they transfer what they’ve learn prematurely into society when they are older, or have the opportunity to put it into practice. It’s time to wake up and integrate EPR (Education Prevention Reduction) into the UK. And it’s time to do it now. I am confident that EPR will not only reduce rates of rape and sexual abuse, but will reduce the rates of mental illness as well.
Our children are our future. And it is our duty as adults to protect them and shape them, so that the future they create is the best kind imaginable.
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