After years of campaigning, Tender are finally celebrating compulsory SRE for all children and young people. Thank you to all of our team who work every day to change lives and help young people to form happy, healthy, safe relationships.
Today, ITV announced the government plans to bring in compulsory Sex and Relationship Education for all young people from the age of four. This is huge news at Tender. Since the charity was founded in 2003, we have been campaigning hard to convince the government of the need for statutory SRE. For some people, it may come as a surprise that this isn’t already in place. Lots of us have hazy memories of learning about reproduction in biology or health class at school. Unfortunately, these short-lived, embarrassment riddled sessions were not compulsory, were not delivered for everyone and barely scratched the surface of what we need to know about sex and relationships, especially at a young age where abusive relationships are astonishingly common. 16-25 year olds are at the highest risk of experiencing abuse of any age group and some studies indicate that the stats are pretty much as high from the age of 13. Early warning signs of coercive control, power imbalances in relationships and how to seek help rarely made their way into lessons.
In recent years, the sexualisation of young people and of the role models they aspire towards has changed the way children and teenagers view and learn about sex. Before they form sexual thoughts or feelings naturally, they are taught that they should be sexually attractive to others. This means many young people begin engaging in sexual activity before they feel ready for it, without realising that it should be enjoyable, comfortable and safe.
With an absence of sex education that answers all the questions young people have, they turn to a new resource to learn more – the internet. Many young people have seen violent pornography before they ever hear about sex at school. Their ideas about what is normal and acceptable about sex and body image are formed through an unrealistic and often damaging medium.
When Tender began its work in 2003 to prevent violence against women and girls, we very quickly realised that the missing link was education. The attitudes which tolerate or condone abuse were already well established by the time people left school. As relationships between family, friends, partners are a part of every person’s lives, it was a major problem that we were not working with children to prepare them to navigate and negotiate these interactions safely.
Through carefully designed drama-based workshops, Tender began to engage with children and young people to fully explore the issues surrounding relationships. We discovered that with just a few open and interactive discussions, we could have a huge impact on young people’s understanding of their rights and responsibilities in relationships and on their practical abilities to safeguard themselves and their friends against harm. We worked with amazing teachers who have become champions of abuse prevention. At that time, the government didn’t even include young people under 18 in the definition of domestic abuse so it was a long journey to the place we are now where children and young people are finally being prioritised in abuse prevention strategies.
Over the years, we’ve faced opposition from various places. Some people feel that sex education is the job of the parents. Unfortunately, many young people don’t have parents who are prepared to do this either through embarrassment, lack of knowledge or because they themselves have been or are involved in unhealthy relationships. Our belief is that young people should be getting SRE from more sources, not fewer and that if the government takes responsibility for educating every young person through their school life then we can have a major impact on how young people in the UK view relationships. These compulsory classes will mean that the silence around discomfort and harm in relationships lifts and young people have the chance to build empathy and respect from a very early age.
Two women each week are murdered by their partners or former partners each week in England and Wales and much of the country has turned a blind eye. Universal SRE can be revolutionary in saving lives, reducing the harm caused by abuse and lifting the barriers of gender inequality and fear.
We’re determined to work with the government and schools to ensure that this new progression is supported by experience, knowledge and action, ensuring that it has a meaningful impact on young people and their ability to live safe, happy and loving lives.
Development Manager at Tender