This case study was written for Together’s 2016 ‘State of Children’s Rights’ report by Kathryn Dawson, Sexual Violence Prevention Co-ordinator at Rape Crisis Scotland. The organisation supports local centres and works with agencies such as the police, Crown Office and health services providing training and consultancy to improve the response to those who are affected by and who perpetrate sexual violence. The case study headlined the report chapter on Education.
Prevention workers at Rape Crisis centres across Scotland are working in partnership with schools to deliver evidence-based education programmes to young people on issues such as consent, gender, pornography and social media, bringing an understanding of the impacts sexual violence can have and how survivors can access support. The programme is funded by Scottish Government’s Children, Young People and Families Early Intervention fund, in recognition of the significant pressures and expectations around sexual activity faced by young people, and the levels of sexual violence to which they are exposed. In an NSPCC study published in 2009, 31% of girls surveyed had experienced sexual violence from a partner, and in a 2015 European Commission-funded study 41% of girls and 14% of boys surveyed in England reported experiencing sexual violence, figures which are likely to be similar in Scotland. Young people tell us they want – and should have access to – safe and high quality relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education so that they have greater understanding and agency to be able to engage in sexual activity that feels right for them and their partners, when they’re ready.
There has been huge uptake of our prevention programmes by schools and we are sometimes unable to meet demand; it’s clear that teachers recognise the need and want to support young people with these issues. The Curriculum for Excellence sets out a range of outcomes and experiences relevant to sex and relationships, abuse and violence. However, there is insufficient training and support for teachers, and provision is inconsistent. Young people often report that it doesn’t meet their needs. For example, in a 2016 UK-wide report by the Terrence Higgins Trust, half of young people surveyed rated the RSHP education they received in school as either ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’, and 75% reported they were not taught about consent. Occasionally, we even hear from teachers who think it’s inappropriate to educate young people on sex and relationships. It’s clear that much needs to be done to bring about widespread acceptance that young people have the right to RSHP, and to resource high quality provision.
Where programmes are co-designed by adult educators and young people, they are more likely to be relevant and to tackle issues such as social media, pornography and peer group norms more effectively. Young people’s participation has been integrated in the programmes from the outset, ensuring that the materials are engaging, and that those who have an interest can take a greater role in challenging sexism, gender stereotyping and violence. Young people have been involved in co-facilitating discussions, campaigning online, designing LGBTQ-inclusive materials and creating short films which are now used within our education programme.
The Rape Crisis programme builds on research evidence on effective approaches to sexual violence prevention. An external evaluation stated that ‘the findings on strength of impact indicate that the intervention is very effective in changing young people’s knowledge and attitudes.’ Evaluators spoke with teachers and young people, who both expressed views that the programme benefitted from delivery by specialist external facilitators, rather than by teachers themselves. Young people agreed that adults were right to be concerned, and gave examples of their own concerns:
Photos of girls passed around boys. School now quite strict and came down on it quite heavily. In 1st and 2nd year it was happening a lot but police and school dealt with it – they took phones off everyone. Still think that boys don’t realise it’s wrong or that it’s upsetting.
Are adults right to be worried? Yes. Especially the amount of stuff available online. The porn. It makes boys think that sex should be like that.
So what, based on the experience we have gained in working with young people, do we at Rape Crisis believe is needed to realise young people’s right to high quality RSHP education? We support the recommendations made in this report, particularly that there needs to be recognition of the right to RSHP education, that young people are involved in the design and delivery of programmes and that teaching and the delivery of specialist programmes are sufficiently resourced.
Evidence from Together’s members suggests that some young people are unable to recognise signs of violence against women and girls, indicating that much more needs to be done to address gender-based violence and related issues in RSHP education. These issues are discussed in more detail in Together’s State of Children’s Rights report sections on ‘Violence Against Children’ (Chapter 4), ‘Sexual Exploitation and Abuse’ (page 69) and ‘Freedom of the Child from all Forms of Violence’ (page 74).