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Damning report: "normalisation of underage sex is leaving children vulnerable to abuse and exploitation"

9 May 2017

Fundamental flaws in professional attitudes towards underage sexual activity have directly contributed to exploitation and abuse. Image: Getty.

A new report says that the normalisation of underage sex is exposing children and young people to the risk of sexual exploitation. It also raises serious questions about the Government's plans to introduce compulsory relationships education in schools.

Unprotected, a 152-page report published by national charity the Family Education Trust this week, examines the findings of serious case reviews of child sexual exploitation in several parts of England, including Rochdale and Oxfordshire. It also looks at Professor Alexis Jay's Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham.

It finds that the failure of professionals to detect the abuse of so many young people in different parts of the country cannot be accounted for by the incompetence of individual officers or inadequate systems at the local level. Rather, it has to do with a culture in which underage sexual activity has come to be viewed as a normal part of growing up and seen as relatively harmless as long as it is consensual.

The report's author, Family Education Trust director Norman Wells, commented: "The evidence from recent serious case reviews clearly demonstrates that fundamental flaws in professional attitudes towards underage sexual activity have directly contributed to exploitation and abuse."

Sex education in schools

The Family Education Trust study also raises serious questions about the government's plans to combat child sexual exploitation by making relationships education a compulsory part of the primary school curriculum and by making relationships and sex education a statutory subject in all secondary schools. It argues that the approach to relationships and sex education favoured by the leading campaigners will prove counter-productive and do more harm than good.

Antonia Tully, who heads SPUC's nationwide Safe at School campaign, welcomed the report, calling it  "a tragic account of the way in which we are failing young people." In a press release, she said: "At last someone is joining the dots between what is happening in schools, sexual health clinics and doctors surgeries and how this is leaving a generation of young underage girls utterly unprotected from sexual abuse by predatory men.

"Plying underage girls with contraceptives, side-lining their parents and isolating them behind a wall of 'confidentiality' leaves vulnerable girls in a desolate place. It's got to stop.

"Schools should be giving a strong message to pupils that under-age sex is a criminal offence, not promoting access to contraception and abortion. A 13-year-old does not have sexual rights and if she's asking for contraception, this should sound alarm bells with any GP."

The role of parents

Mrs Tully went on to say: "There is no sound evidence that compulsory sex education will keep children safe from sexual exploitation. Safeguarding children must take place primarily in the home and under the direction of parents, not at school through state control.

"The Safe at School campaign asserts that the best place for young children to learn about sexual matters is from their parents, within the family setting. By contrast, schools are encouraged to normalise sex for children and young people by presenting sex as a 'normal and pleasurable fact of life'. This approach has contributed to the sexualisation of children."

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