Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Consent and sex education

Usually I like to pour scorn on the Conservatives; usually, they deserve it. But on the matter of rape some qualified bipartisanship may not be a bad idea.

The conviction rate, as David Cameron points out, is far too low. He doesn’t offer anything in the way of a policy to improve this, but it’s a huge and complex question, and one hopes a future policy review will be useful. Even raising the issue is always worthwhile.

There are plenty of hurdles at which the process often falls: according to a January report by the Inspectorate of Constabulary [PDF, p8], from a third to a half of court cases involving adults result in acquittals. But before that, between a half and two-thirds of reported cases don’t go beyond the investigation stage. And more than three-quarters of rapes are never even reported to the police.

Cameron talks more broadly about the need to change social attitudes (which of course is right), and one concrete proposal of his I agree with the spirit of – while regretting that he doesn’t go further:

And we need our schools to talk about consent to sex when they teach sex education. I know there are some parents who have concerns about sex education, and they should reserve the right to opt their child out. But I believe that sex education, when taught properly, is extremely important. It should not be values-free. That must mean teaching young people about consent: that 'no' means 'no'. At the moment, this is not even compulsory in the sex education curriculum. This has to change - and it will change with a Conservative government.

I should say that I have no knowledge of the current sex education curriculum, but I’ll take his word for it.

But there’s a really disappointing tension between his recognition that this “must” be “compulsory” in the curriculum and his deference to parents’ “right to opt their child out”.

Cameron’s colleague Theresa May is right to say: “Boys need to be educated that no means no.” This is needed. Sex education in general is one thing that relates to making children into good citizens and preparing them for life, rather than focusing on exams and league table places. It’s not trendy political correctness, it’s not promoting licentiousness, and it should not be optional. It should not depend on the prejudices and sensibilities – often the religious views – of parents.

Just as Jehova’s Witnesses shouldn’t be able to stop their children from having vital blood transfusions, so parents shouldn’t be able to stop their children learning about the vital social, moral and legal issue of sexual consent.

This is a politically tough nettle, and the more parties willing to grasp it, the better.

1 comment:

Andrew Brown said...

The QCA have the details of what's in the curriculum for SRE. At Key Stage 4 they say they expect PSHE to cover:

"characteristics of positive relationships, and awareness of exploitation in relationships and of statutory and voluntary organisations that support relationships in crisis"

Not quite "no means no" but then the curriculum isn't written in that language anyway.