Should education on child abuse be made compulsory?

July 7, 2016
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Time and time again we hear the saying, prevention is better than cure. Yet, despite the increasing number of childhood abuse survivors coming forth, there has not been any real amendment to the education syllabus.

England’s education secretary, Nicky Morgan, previously announced that all children from the age of 11 would be taught about sexual consent. Whilst this is not mandatory, it is said that students will be taught about rape as well as sexual consent in their personal, social and health education PSHE lessons. This also raises concerns on whether ‘consent lessons’ will actually do the underlying job of protecting children.

My only reservation is that education on child abuse should be compulsory and introduced at a younger age. This will ensure that the most vulnerable age group is educated. The syllabus should clearly teach children about what grooming is and how it works and what amounts to abuse as opposed to merely touching upon sexual consent. It is equally as important for parents to participate in the education process of their child and to also be aware of the potential signs of abuse.

More recently, Nicky Morgan rejected MP’s calls to make sex and relationship education compulsory on all schools. Currently, under the national curriculum, sex and relationship education is compulsory from age 11. However parents are allowed to withdraw their children from parts of the lessons.

Position of Trust

Far often than not, abusers use their position of trust, authority and control to subject their victims to sexual abuse. At Bolt Burdon Kemp we represent survivors who have been abused by family members, teachers, Scout leaders and priests. It can be the fact that children trust these adults that leave them confused and unable to disclose the abuse.

We have had survivors questioning themselves and not being able to understand why they failed to disclose the abuse or have ‘allowed’ it to continue. Unfortunately, the fact that the abuser is likely to be a person whom the child trusts is part of the grooming process and distorts the child’s ability to understand that they are actually being abused. This is so, especially when they are told “it’s our little secret”. Other survivors feel that if they had reported the abuse, they would not have been believed.

Naturally, if a young child is fully informed of what amounts to abuse and who they can talk to, the likelihood that they will be more vigilant and report the abuse is greater. One would also hope that mandatory education would deter abusers.

‘The Underwear Rule – talk PANTS’

The NSPCC has formulated an easy way for parents to teach their children about abuse, known as the ‘underwear rule’. These conversations will keep children safe from abuse without parents having to actually having to mention sexual abuse. The aim is to have everyone talking ‘PANTS’ which is broken down as follows:

  • Privates are private
  • Always remember your body belongs to you
  • No means no
  • Talk about secrets that upset you
  • Speak up, someone can help

The repercussions of child abuse vary depending on each survivor. However, it is not uncommon that survivors will often underachieve academically, lack employment opportunities, misuse alcohol and drugs, fail to maintain stable relationships and suffer from psychological issues.

I can understand that some parents/ individuals are reluctant to teach young children about sexual relationships and consent for fear that they will be subjected to the adult world. However, if the curriculum sets out guidance on how to address this issue age appropriately, a rule such as the pants rule could go a long way. The rule teaches children about safety without divulging into or discussing sexual abuse or relationships in any graphic detail.

Whilst the NSPCC is ensuring it does its part in educating the youth on child abuse, it is not enough to assume that this will suffice. We must collectively strive to ensure the future youth have the best upbringing.

Rachel’s Story

It is inevitable that the discussion of mandatory education on child abuse to young children would spark an array of opinions. Rachel’s story can be found on the NSPCC website, which in my opinion concludes firstly why education on child abuse at a young age is a must and secondly that it really does make a difference.

In summary, the case involves a three year old girl who had been sexually abused by a family friend. The abuse only became apparent when her mother decided to tell her about the ‘Pants Rule’. Once the little girl disclosed the abuse, her parents reported it to the police. She was medically examined which indicated the damage was consistent with what she had said had happened. The family friend was subsequently convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. The little girl’s response was “See, I told everyone I wasn’t lying.”

We must not underestimate our children and their ability. Prevention really is better than cure.

If you think you may have a claim, contact us free of charge and in confidence on 020 7733 7810 or at ChildAbuse@boltburdonkemp.co.uk for specialist legal advice. Alternatively, you can complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Child Abuse team will contact you. You can find out more about the Child Abuse Team.

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