Monthly Archives: March, 2016

QotD: “You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur”

Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.

Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride

(Found at the Bewilderness)

“Manchester sex workers’ rights case collapses after five years”

Obviously, I do not agree with the English Collective of Prostitutes’ stance on the sex industry, but I think I can trust my readers enough to read the opinions of Niki Adams without converting into sex industry advocates – please imagine quotation marks around every instance of ‘sex worker’.

A court case that would have tested the right of sex workers to offer services together in brothels to protect themselves has collapsed after a police officer refused to give evidence.

Three women appeared before a crown court after the brothel they had run together in Greater Manchester was raided in July 2011. Jane Young, Deborah Daniels and Catherine McGarr had all been charged with keeping a brothel and faced up to seven years in jail if they were found guilty during the trial at Manchester crown court.

But after five years of being kept on bail the trial collapsed on Tuesday morning after the chief investigating officer in the case said he would not be able to give evidence on medical grounds.

The case would have been a first in the UK as the defendants were planning to use a novel defence to fight the criminal charge of keeping a bordello. The women were planning to argue that under the Human Rights Act it was against the rights of sex workers not to allow them to work together in safety.

The court heard that DC Philip Anderson, who had brought the case against the women, would not be able to give evidence on health grounds. Despite being in the court building the officer did not make an appearance during the hearing.

David Temkin, prosecuting, said he had had a “frank discussion” with the officer and it had been agreed that he would not be able to attend the trial due to his “worsening health”.

The exact details of Anderson’s medical conditions were then discussed in secret but it was revealed that his decision had been approved by two detective chief inspectors within the force.

The law around prostitution in the UK is complicated. The act of prostitution and exchanging money for sex is not in itself illegal – but a string of laws criminalises activities around it.

The 1956 Sexual Offences Act bans running a brothel and it is against the law to loiter or solicit sex on the street. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 it is an offence to cause or incite prostitution or control it for personal gain.

Niki Adams, from the English Collective of Prostitutes which was supporting the three women, labelled the prosecution as outrageous, and branded it a miscarriage of justice. Adams said that the women had previously had the endorsement of police to keep the brothel and officers had turned a blind eye.

But following an alleged policy change the premises in north Manchester were raided in July 2011. Adams said: “Police had previously turned a blind eye to it because even they could see it was safer for women to work together. But then all of a sudden they were raided and it has been five years while they have been on bail – which is just outrageous.

“This has been an astounding miscarriage of justice and a terrible waste of resources. These women are just trying to earn a living and want to do it in the safest way possible. It was an outrage that the police even sought to bring this prosecution in the first place and the fact that it has collapsed shows how badly this case has been managed from the start.”

The charges relating to brothel keeping will now lie on file. Young, 50, pleaded guilty to three counts of possessing Class B and C drugs including amphetamines. She was given a six-month conditional discharge.

(source)

QotD: “Power is not a mistake in which the powerful can be educated”

Power is not a mistake in which the powerful can be educated, it’s not a misunderstanding, and it’s not a disagreement. Justice is not won by moral argument, or exertion, or individual transformation, and it’s not won by spiritual epiphany – It’s won by taking power away from the powerful and dismantling the institutions.

Lierre Keith

(Found at the Bewilderness, read the whole conversation)

QotD: “Rotherham whistleblower explains why sex abuse ring was covered up”

Broken and Betrayed is an account of the Rotherham abuse scandal by the key whistleblower, Jayne Senior. Last month three drug-dealing brothers – known locally as Mad Ash, Bash and Bono Hussain – were convicted of offences going back to 1997. The time scale, the severity of the crimes and the sheer number of victims are so staggering that even after three official reports the affair is far from over.

Rotherham’s investigation put the number of victims at 1,400, “all barely pubescent”. Senior spent 13 years working for a Rotherham council-funded programme aimed at identifying children at risk of sexual exploitation and she estimates there are more than 1,700 victims: this in a town of just 250,000. As of now, eight men of Pakistani origin and two white women have been convicted of abuse; five in 2010 after an investigation prompted by Senior; and, this year, the Hussain brothers’ circle, also on evidence collected by Senior’s team in 2002.

Yet it is not the severity of the crimes, nor the paucity of convictions that make the affair a scandal. It is the cover-up. Senior repeatedly found warnings went unheeded, evidence was destroyed and, when her team gave information to outside police forces, she was reprimanded and accused of distortion and unprofessionalism.

Senior is a local woman, born and raised in Rotherham. She had her first child as a teenager, and began her career in youth clubs, working her way up by taking training courses and eventually a degree. When she began working with children at risk of sexual abuse in 1999, the first few girls were referred to her by social services. Soon, the girls began recommending friends, and the numbers began to grow.

In a typical case, a child would be befriended by youngsters of predominantly Pakistani origin. Older men would then appear with “gifts” of drugs, SIM cards, cigarettes and alcohol. This led to claims of debt, which the girls were told could be worked off with sex. Many of the children believed they were the men’s girlfriends, even after they were passed on to associates. In the early years, girls were sent to work as prostitutes in Sheffield, a town with an established red light district. Later they were driven in taxis halfway across the country to gatherings where they would be raped multiple times.

When Senior approached the police, she was given an electronic dropbox and told to deposit testimonies, details such as car registration numbers, and the names of men and descriptions. Many years later, she discovered the box could not be accessed by outside forces, and was never consulted by Rotherham police. Senior’s information only ever leaked accidentally and, each time it did, Senior received a reprimand and Rotherham social services hid the evidence away.

The first cover-up came in 2002. An academic named Adele Gladman had been seconded to Senior’s team, where she collated existing files to show the weight of evidence that already existed against the Hussain brothers. Gladman shared her report with the council, and local and South Yorkshire police commanders, with the result that social services raided Senior’s office and confiscated the files. Gladman was sacked. Information leaked a second time in 2008 when a young policeman took evidence directly from Senior and logged it on the national police computer where it was accessed by Sheffield police.

This information led to the 2010 convictions of five Rotherham offenders. Only then did Rotherham police mount an investigation, but this case fell apart. Senior tells how Rotherham social services took the girls from her team’s care and left them without protection; they were open to intimidation and began to refuse to testify.

In 2010, a 17-year-old named Laura Wilson was murdered by a young gang member after he discovered that Wilson’s child, which he believed was his, had been fathered by his older uncle. Senior had logged Wilson’s history for years and identified her as at risk. Though her warnings had been ignored, Senior’s team was made the scapegoat for the murder. Her cases were folded into Rotherham social services and, when she was told she must re-apply for a senior post, she left.

However, the council report on the Wilson murder was so heavily redacted that it alerted the suspicions of the journalist Andrew Norfolk. He managed to track down Senior, who shared her files. In the end, the failure of the cover-up created the story.

There is still no satisfactory answer as to why so many of Rotherham’s institutions behaved so badly. The MP until 2012 was Dennis MacShane, who resigned after being imprisoned for expenses abuses. Senior alleges that she wrote MacShane a briefing paper on the issues, ahead of a conference they both attended on child grooming. So she was upset when he later claimed on BBC radio that no one came to him directly with a problem. MacShane also stated that though he may have been guilty of “doing too little”, he added that “there was a cultural issue of not wanting to rock the multicultural boat”. The crimes were the result of a mafia-like organisation and could not be investigated without identifying community links, yet the cover-up made it seem the town’s only priority was to protect the Asian community. This led to a backlash that was exploited by both the BNP and EDL.

One understands that those at fault would prefer to be damned as liberals rather than bigots, but both of the offical reports state that the council, social services and local police failed to act because the blame was placed on the girls – some as young as 11 – who were thought to be responsible for their own fates. Senior’s account is a rough-and-ready book by a woman who is not a natural writer, but it is a valuable snapshot into a very British kind of denial.

(source)

Ask the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals to Reject Amnesty International

Librarian organisation CILIP (which stands for the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) have got together with human rights campaigners Amnesty International to announce a major new partnership to celebrate human rights in children’s literature.

It’s going to be called the Amnesty CILIP Honour and will span both the Carnegie fiction and the Kate Greenaway picture book awards.

Beginning with the 2016 medals, a title from each of the prestigious shortlists will receive the Amnesty CILIP Honour, a thumbs up for the books that most distinctively illuminate, uphold or celebrate freedoms. The books receiving the commendation will be able to carry an Amnesty CILIP Honour logo.

The first Amnesty CILIP honour judging panel will include last year’s Carnegie medal winner, Tanya Landman whose book Buffalo Soldier dealt with issues including racism, slavery and gender discrimination.

Amnesty International’s Nicky Parker, said: “Books have a unique ability to inspire empathy, broaden horizons and empower young readers. We hope this award will make it easy to identify books which will teach children about truth, freedom and justice and encourage them to feel they can shape a better world.”

The winners will be announced at the Medals ceremony in June 2016, look out for our gallery of the longlistees for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway when its announced early next year!

(source)

I have drafted an email/letter to send to CILIP, the judges, and the authors listed for the awards (it will need adjusting slightly for the different recipients), please feel free to adapt and use:

Dear _____,

I am writing to ask you to reconsider CILIP’s partnership with Amnesty International for the awarding of an extra honour to nominees of the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal.

Amnesty International’s recent decision to support the full decriminalisation of the sex industry, in opposition to established international human rights treaties [1] demonstrates that they are no longer legitimate as a human rights organisation.

Amnesty International made this decision in advance of consulting their membership [2], the consultation process was rushed through without giving members time to research and respond [3], and the information given on the abolitionist approach/Nordic model (which decriminalises the prostitute her or himself, while criminalising buyers and third party sellers) was inaccurate and misleading [1].

Amnesty International defined ‘sex work’ in such a way as to exclude anyone who had been abused in the industry [4] [5], and lied about consulting prostitution survivors [1]. The first version of their ‘sex work’ policy was written by a known pimp [1] and the vice president of one of the groups Amnesty International took advice from has recently been sentenced in Mexico to 15 years for human trafficking into the sex industry [6].

Amnesty International’s Nicky Parker has said this about the CILIP award: “We hope this award will make it easy to identify books which will teach children about truth, freedom and justice and encourage them to feel they can shape a better world.”

I would like you to consider how a ‘better world’ is compatible with the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies inherent in prostitution, and I ask you to read this critique from Taina Bien-Aimé , Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women [7]:

“What would happen if every country decriminalized prostitution? Not just the few that have already disastrously done so, but what if every government legitimized pimps and brothel owners and failed to hold men accountable for purchasing human beings for sex? Would the United Nations and its member states launch a #2050 Agenda for Investing in the Sex Trade as a Solution and Sustainable Development for Women and Girls, Especially the Most Indigent?

“What marketing slogans would ensue? Might public agencies launch poverty alleviation campaigns? “First Nations, Indigenous, Aboriginal, African-Americans and Global South Populations: Are you Poor, Young, Incested, Transgendered, Homeless? With our help, the Sex Trade will provide you with shelter, food, free condoms and the opportunity to contribute to your (or a foreign) country’s Gross National Product. No experience or education required.”

“[…] The Afrikaans term apartheid means “apart and aside” and evokes one of the most brutal regimes in modern history. By encouraging governments to enshrine the sex trade as just another potential employer, Amnesty is promoting gender apartheid, the segregation of women between those who deserve access to economic and educational opportunities and those who are condemned to prostitution. Make no mistake: as long as women are for sale, no woman will be viewed as equal in corporate boardrooms, in the halls of legislature, or in the home.”

An early, leaked draft of Amnesty International’s policy paper contained the following claim [8]: ” Sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need. To criminalize those who are unable or unwilling to fulfill that need through more traditionally recognized means and thus purchase sex, may amount to a violation of the right to privacy and undermine the rights to free expression and health.”

Do you really want CILIP, and the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, to be associated with a group that tells boys that when they grow up, they will have a ‘human right’ to purchase sex?

Do you really want CILIP, and the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, to be associated with a group that tells girls, especially poor girls, that, once they turn eighteen, they will have the right to ‘choose’ prostitution?

I hope you will read my email, and the sources supplied, and re-examine CILIP’s partnership with Amnesty International.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Kind regards,
Abi

[1] https://thefeministahood.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/what-amnesty-did-wrong/

[2] https://www.byline.com/project/3/article/226

[3] https://antipornfeminists.wordpress.com/2015/07/18/qotd-amnesty-international-vote-of-no-confidence/

[4] http://glosswatch.com/2015/08/05/the-amnesty-challenge/

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/aug/09/listen-to-sex-workers-but-which-ones

[6] http://www.faber.co.uk/blog/a-human-rights-scandal-by-kat-banyard/

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/taina-bienaime/the-framing-of-gender-apa_b_8273268.html

[8] https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=YW1uZXN0eS5vcmcuYXV8YWlhLWFjdGl2aXN0LXBvcnRhbHxneDo2ZDZhNzFmOTc5YmU1Njhk

The email address for CILIP is: ckg@cilip.org.uk (also copy in mark.taylor@cilip.org.uk, and liz@riotcommunications.com and jon@riotcommunications.com, who are the publicity contacts for the prize)

They also have a postal address: 7 Ridgmount Street, London, WC1E 7AE, UK.

Nick Poole, CILIP Chief Executive, can be contacted here: nick.poole@cilip.org.uk and is on twitter @NickPoole1

Dawn Finch, President of CILIP, can be contacted here: dawn.finch@cilip.org.uk and is on twitter @dawnafinch

Sioned Jacques, chair of the judging panel, can be contacted here: sioned.eleri@btinternet.com and is on twitter @sejbookworm

Tanya Landman, one of the judges, can be contacted here: tanyalandman@tantraweb.co.uk and is on twitter @tanya_landman

The Amnesty CILIP Honour is sponsored by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS). They can be contacted here: alcs@alcs.co.uk

This page has a list of all the nominees for both prizes, I will update contact details in the comments section as I find them:

Sarah Crossan
Frances Hardinge
Nick Lake
Patrick Ness
Kate Saunders
Marcus Sedgwick
Robin Talley
Jenny Valentine
Anthony Browne
Ross Collins
Oliver Jeffers
Mac Barnett
Jackie Morris
Helen Oxenbury
Peter Bently
Chris Riddell
Neil Gaiman (I already know there is no point in contacting Gaiman, he’s a sex-pozzer)
Sydney Smith
JonArno Lawson

That page also tells us:

The winners for both the CILIP Carnegie Medal and the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal will be announced on Monday 20th June at a lunchtime ceremony at the British Library

“Ordinary Women: Daring to Defy History”

Funded via Seed & Spark

Hello! I’m Anita Sarkeesian. In 2012, I launched a modest Kickstarter campaign to fund a small video series deconstructing representations of women. In an astounding, humbling turn of events, Tropes vs Women in Video Games drew international attention—both positive and negative—and Feminist Frequency raised over twenty-five times the amount we sought. We put it to good use: in the four years since, Feminist Frequency has transformed into a non-profit organization devoted to critically engaging with media. Our videos have focused on examining the way women are represented in popular culture, and reimagining the world of video games as a more inclusive place.

Starting today, we’re doing something new: a video series called Ordinary Women: Daring to Defy History.

Rather than heroes, leaders and innovators, women are often depicted and treated as secondary characters in history, objects of affections, damsels to be rescued, or merely the wives, mothers and assistants to the men who achieved important things. Instead, we’re taking a look back at the amazing women throughout history who defied gender stereotypes and changed the world, to remind us that the stories we tell about women—in TV shows, comic books, video games and in real life—often reflect the limitations placed on them, rather than the world-changing feats they’ve already achieved.

With your help, we can bring their stories to life and give these incredible women the attention they deserve.

QotD: “Towards the end of my work as an “escort” I was thoroughly exhausted”

Towards the end of my work as an “escort” I was thoroughly exhausted. The brothel work had been brutal on my body, but the “independent escort” work had exhausted my spirit. Whereas once I just ran the gamut of garden-variety sexual activities with, at best, a distant smile and a “good day to you,” I now had been obsessing over my appearance, my apartment, my advertising, and my “image” as well. I’d been made to adopt the most insidious of all contracts: The Girlfriend Experience — winsome, involved, overly nurturing, and available. Intelligent enough to understand but never enough to contradict. Lying to “clients” about my background, my views, and my habits in order to demonstrate a pleasing personhood for the paying male ego.

Friends had also left brothels in droves and began to navigate this landscape of pretense for themselves. According to “clients,” we didn’t drink heavily, smoke, do drugs, swear, speak coarsely (other than at appropriate sexual moments) argue, have opinions, or refuse to gratify. In truth, most of the women I knew had problems with drink, drugs, eating disorders, mental health problems, and anger issues. We may not have been routinely beaten by punters or raped (although it does happen), but our self-esteem and self-assurance was as paper thin as our digital platforms.We pretended to be happy, empowered, sexy, and comfortable in our roles as sponges for immediate male satisfaction while pushing our maladies and distresses down the sides of the sofa… just like those women detailed by Betty Friedan: isolated housewives, secretly quaffing vodka and pills to deal with their controlled misery. In each of our separate apartments, the “high class escorts” I knew were indeed like those housewives, only now it was more than one “husband” we served to keep a roof over our heads.

Rae Story is a part time freelance writer living in the UK. She describes herself as “sex industry critical” after having worked industry for over 10 years, in various capacities and countries.

(Posted at Femsolid)

QotD: “Radical feminist theorists do not seek to make gender a bit more flexible, but to eliminate it”

Radical feminist theorists do not seek to make gender a bit more flexible, but to eliminate it. They are gender abolitionists, and understand gender to provide the framework and rationale for male dominance. In the radical feminist approach, masculinity is the behaviour of the male ruling class and femininity is the behaviour of the subordinate class of women. Thus gender can have no place in the egalitarian future that feminism aims to create.

Sheila Jeffreys, Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism

(found at the Bewilderness)

QotD: “Canada urged to rethink approach to sexual assault after Ghomeshi acquittal”

The acquittal of former radio star Jian Ghomeshi has prompted fresh calls for a sweeping overhaul of the way Canada deals with allegations of sexual violence.

In a ruling on Thursday, Judge William Horkins found Ghomeshi, 48, not guilty of four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking, arguing that prosecutors had failed to establish Ghomeshi’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

But the verdict prompted widespread outrage among women’s rights activists who said the case underlined the country’s chronic underreporting of sexual assaults and low conviction rates.

Much of the anger has focused on the defence team’s strategy of undermining the testimony of the complainants by questioning their recall of traumatic events, and some campaigners have called for the creation of special sexual violence courts, with judges and prosecutors who have been trained in areas such as intimate abuse and trauma.

Speaking to the Guardian, the first complainant in the high-profile case called for sweeping reforms. “The whole system needs to be changed,” she said. “It can’t just be one person on the stand with a seasoned lawyer throwing darts at them.”

The woman – whose identity continues to be protected by a publication ban – said Thursday’s decision left her livid.

Some 15 months ago, she walked into a police station with allegations that Ghomeshi had – without warning – pulled her hair and punched her in the head. The act hurtled the mother of two into what she calls the toughest experience of her life.

The list of what she wished she had known from the outset is long, ranging from how her police statement would be used in court to the toll testifying would take on her nerves. “People tell you to just tell your story and that if you don’t remember, just say ‘I don’t know’. It’s not anything like that.”

As the trial came to an end, the woman launched a website that she hopes will become a resource to counter the gaping lack of information available for survivors navigating the court system. Just one day after its launch, the website had already received some 5,000 visits.

The site is her antidote to the many who worry that the high-profile trial – and Thursday’s verdict – will discourage others from coming forward with their own stories.

“I still think – as horrible as the system is – more people have to come forward. If everyone stays quiet, it is never going to change,” she said.

In Thursday’s decision, Judge Horkins stressed the need to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Even if you believe the accused is probably guilty or likely guilty, that is not sufficient,” he said. “In those circumstances you must give the benefit of the doubt to the accused and acquit because the Crown has failed to satisfy you of the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But figures from Statistics Canada suggest that for every 1,000 sexual assaults that happen in the country, only 33 are ever reported and just three result in convictions, said David Butt, a criminal lawyer who often works with sexual assault complainants. “I call that a statistically validated 99.7% failure rate.”

In any other sector, a similar figure would elicit calls for an overhaul. “And yet we persistently cling to the myth that for sexual assault cases we’re somehow delivering justice,” said Butt.

In the coming weeks, Butt will argue the necessity for reform to the Canadian Bar Association, highlighting alternative options for sexual assault complainants such as civil lawsuits, where the burden of proof is lower than the criminal justice system, or restorative justice.

Hours after Thursday’s verdict, another woman described an encounter with the former radio star which she said left her feeling “dirty & sad”.

Actress Zoe Kazan said she met Ghomeshi in 2013 when she was interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio host. “Before we went on air, he told me I was ‘just his type’. Funny, sexy, just the right amount of damage,” she wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

[…]

In 2014 more than 20 women and one man came forward with allegations they had been slapped, punched, bitten, choked or smothered by the man who was once one of the CBC’s brightest stars.

Ghomeshi denied the accusations, and pleaded not guilty to four charges of sexual assault and another of choking to overcome resistance.

He now faces a second trial in June, stemming from allegations that he touched the buttocks of a former CBC employee and told her: “I want to hate-fuck you.”

His lawyers responded to Thursday’s verdict with a statement that said Ghomeshi had been rightly acquitted.

“Notwithstanding the unprecedented scrutiny and pressure, the case was determined on the evidence heard in a court of law. In our system of justice, that is what must happen in every case regardless of who is accused or what crime is alleged. That is precisely what occurred in this case,” read the statement from Henein Hutchison LLP.

It added: “This has been a very long, exhausting and devastating 16 months for Mr Ghomeshi. He will take time with his family and close friends to reflect and move forward from what can only be described as a profoundly difficult period in his life.”

Full article here

QotD: “I’ve come of age in the porn generation. Here are some of the problems we face”

My first lessons about sex didn’t come from sex education lessons, but were filtered through pre-pubescent boys, who received their information from porn. A 2008 report into youth exposure to pornography, carried out in the US, found that from a pool of 5,000 undergraduate students, 93% of boys and 62% of girls had been exposed to internet porn before the age of 18. The report also found that “boys were significantly more likely to view online pornography more often and to view more types of images”.

Porn provides a huge bank of sexual imagery, at the click of a button. Regrettably, it often depicts aggressive sexual acts – a 2010 analysis of 50 bestselling adult videos in the US found that 88% of the scenes included physical aggression. This aggression is overwhelmingly carried out by the male, with the target of the violence being a woman 94% of the time. In addition, porn rarely depicts romantic intimacy, tending to omit kissing, verbal compliments or laughter.

Sex is now referred to, among other things, as “beating” and “boning”. These brutal terms reflect the depiction of sex in pornography, with its archetypes of the dominant male and submissive female.

ChildLine reports receiving calls from young people every day, worried about how unlimited access to online pornography is influencing their perceptions of sex. One young teenage boy told them: “I’m always watching porn and some of it is quite aggressive. I didn’t think it was affecting me at first but I’ve started to view girls a bit differently recently and it’s making me worried.”

I think that boy had a point. While watching popular porn films, depicting scenes of sexual violence, people unwittingly normalise that behaviour.

Porn depicts sex without responsibility, in a way that is both acceptable and alluring.

I learned this the hard way, as the young women I knew would be rated out of 10 for “fuckability”. I learned this, too, when I was coerced into having sex with someone I was scared of. I learned this when I saw some of the degrading acts regularly played out in porn films replicated in bed.

Sadly, I also learned to be scared of sex.

The porn industry currently has far too big a role in sex education, and it starts influencing boys and girls at a difficult age. It tends to start filtering into the conversation around sex at an age when both girls and boys have heightened body image issues, when they are under great pressure to conform socially and don’t necessarily have the experience or confidence to demand their sexual rights.

Adults are supposed to guide young people to make sound sexual decisions. But in February, the education minister, Nicky Morgan, rejected calls for sex education to be made statutory both in primary and secondary schools, despite receiving a joint letter from the chairs of the education, health, home affairs and business committees, calling for sex education that can “help protect young people from abuse in many forms”.

Even when sex education is provided at school, it is often farcical. In my experience, SRE (sex and relationship education), was always taught within the framework of either risk or biology. “Beware of STDs, children – and your life will be totally ruined if you get pregnant,” our teacher would lecture a room full of bored 14-year-olds. She would only arouse the interest of the class when she pulled a “wooden willy” out of her bag. At this, the class would shriek with excitement and start filling condoms with water and throwing them at each other.

This is hardly an environment conducive to learning, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by students, 40% of whom say the SRE they received was either “poor” or “very poor”.

Trying to engage young people in conversations about sex can be difficult, and there’s sometimes a tendency for people in authority to ignore the reality of teenage sex, or advocate an unrealistic policy of abstinence.

Students at many UK universities are now setting up consent classes, and it would be good to see these messages form the heart of SRE in schools. These classes teach students that they have autonomy over their own bodies, and that sex should involve the enthusiastic consent of both parties. Such messages need to be instilled before students leave school, since the average teen loses their virginity at the age of 16.

SRE also needs to include discussion of porn, and its potential to influence one’s conception of sex and relationships in a negative way. So far, attempts to mitigate the negative effects of pornography have tended to revolve around the idea of blocking young people’s access to it. But internet blocks are not effective barriers to accessing porn, and they also introduce an unhelpful element of shame. Instead of advocating abstinence – regarding sex or porn – teachers should accept that it is natural to be curious.

It would be better to encourage critical thinking about pornography, and to discuss how porn might contrast with real sex – to ask why pornography never depicts participants checking how the other is feeling, or asking for their consent.

I had a very honest conversation with my mum about some of my early sexual experiences, and her response was one of sadness, but not surprise. With only my lousy SRE lessons to help me, I was unable to understand my feelings of discomfort and shame after feeling obliged to have sex. More importantly, I wasn’t equipped with the confidence to say no.

Ellie Olcott, full article here