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Failure by Professionals Over Relaxed Attitude To Under Age Sex Leaves Children Vulnerable To Abuse And Exploitation - Report

8 May 2017


A damning report which condemns "the normalisation of underage sex" has been praised by campaigners at the forefront of the fight against controversial plans to impose compulsory sex education in the nation’s schools.

The new 152-page report is critical of a national culture which turns a blind eye to sex among under-16s even although it exposes children and young people to the risk of sexual exploitation.

Antonia Tully, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), which is spearheading the nationwide ‘Safe at School’ campaign, welcomed the report, which concludes that 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.

Endorsing the findings of the report from the national charity, Family Education Trust, Mrs Tully 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."

Mrs Tully, a mother of two school age children, praised the report - ‘Unprotected: How the normalisation of underage sex is exposing children and young people to the risk of sexual exploitation’  - and said:

"'Unprotected' is a tragic account of the way in which we are failing young people."

The report is based on an analysis of high profile cases of child sexual exploitation in several parts of England, including Rochdale and Oxfordshire, alongside 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 under-age 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.

SPUC Safe at School has vehemently opposed compulsory sex education in the nation’s schools. A key recommendation of the Family Education Trust report was that sex and relationships education should not be made a compulsory subject.

Mrs Tully said:

“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."

On the issue of consent, Mrs Tully said that while the legal age remains 16,  in practice it  is now 13. She said:

"The issue of consent was a key factor in explaining why professionals seemed to be paralysed when dealing with girls who were being abused. The prevailing view is that any sexual activity is acceptable, and beyond the law, as long as it is consensual. This resulted in professionals mistaking sexual exploitation for consensual sexual activity.

"The sexual health charity Brook advises that ‘young people are unlikely to be prosecuted for mutually agreed sexual activity where there is no evidence of exploitation’. Brook also considers the following sexual behaviour acceptable for 13-17 year olds: ‘consenting oral and/or penetrative sex with others of the same or opposite gender who are of similar age and developmental ability’." 

Mrs Tully added:

“Safe at School condemns this approach to under-age sex because it risks making children and teenagers vulnerable to sexual exploitation.Parents are left feeling powerless to guide and protect their children as schools promote the idea that there are no boundaries to sexual activity.

“Far from safeguarding children and teenagers, this approach sexualises them and makes them vulnerable.”

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