Feature

A BETTER WAY

Nobody can deny that sexual harassment and abuse have reached epidemic proportions. One serious case review after another into child sexual abuse demonstrates society’s guilt – the report from Somerset Safeguarding Children’s Board being just the most recent of many. The prevalence of harassment and abuse in schools has long been a subject of concern, while the media has lit up in the last week with reports of similar behaviour in Parliament.

Last week, the House of Commons held a debate on sexual abuse in schools – it has long been the driving force behind the Relationships and Sex Education reforms for which many (in particular women’s equality and rights groups) have been calling. The theory is that if the next generation are taught about respect, how to give consent and stay safe as they choose from the smorgasbord of delights on offer in modern Britain, predatory behaviour, abuse and violence will all become things of the past. It’s a view premised on the false notion that you can educate your way out of an epidemic.

During the course of the debate, Ann Milton, Minister for Women, said the following about life in modern Britain:

Young people have to make decisions on a far more complex set of choices than I ever had to make… it is about taking club drugs, being on the pill, using a condom to protect oneself from STIs, who to have sex with—and where and when—and the risks of going home with somebody.’

So that is the basis of proposals for SRE – a view that people are free to do anything they like as long as they are informed and nobody gets damaged. She does acknowledge that people get hurt:

If we overlay that with everything that is on social media, all the pornography that is freely available, all the coercive sexual behaviour … it is absolutely clear that we have much more to do to make young people more resilient and able to resist the challenges they face.’

but as if somehow pornography, sexual predation and violence are all amorphous aspects of modern Britain over which we have no control. They are not overlays. They are direct outcomes of a liberal, sexualised society which has abandoned any pretence of a personal moral code. Everybody seems to agree that it’s time for things to change, so here are a few suggestions about how to effect the long overdue change.

Actions have consequences. Any responsible government policy should include this information. It is what parents, carers and responsible adults should be telling young people:

  • Taking club drugs is a risk. The effects can leave you confused, disorientated or unconscious. Of course you have a right to live in any way you choose and not be taken advantage of when you’re vulnerable. But some people don’t care about your rights, they only care about what they want. No amount of education will change the behaviour of people who don’t care how much harm they do.
  • A condom doesn’t protect you from all STIs, of which there are currently about 29 diagnosable infections. Some can be contracted by skin-to-skin contact. The more partners you have, the greater the risk.
  • STIs are a major cause of infertility.
  • Going home with someone you don’t know – well, you know the risks. You were taught Stranger Danger as a child. The danger doesn’t change.
  • Pornography is fantasy, not reality. It is addictive and corrodes your ability to form lasting, loving relationships.

There’s a better way. During the debate, Maria Miller observed, ‘It is not that long ago that we thought smoking did not cause us harm, but now we know a lot better’. The same will one day be true of sexual freedom, so here, in contrast to Ann Milton’s view, is what Christian parents, youth workers and leaders teach the children and young people in their care:

  • Sex is a precious gift from God, intended to be shared only in the exclusive relationship of marriage. The apostle Paul urges us not to ‘conform to the patterns of the world’, (Romans 12:2) so don’t be coerced into casual sex and then there’s no need for the tea rule.
  • Many people are familiar with the concept of their body being a temple. They are careful what they eat and drink and they don’t abuse substances. Well, the apostle Paul got there long before contemporary society. He said that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, so it doesn’t belong to you (I Corinthians 6:19). Take care of your body.
  • Be careful of one another’s feelings. Dress modestly and don’t provoke one another. Respect yourself and exercise self-control, especially of your thoughts. They become words, which become actions and then habits.
  • The apostle Paul also wrote, ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable … think about such things’ (Philippians 4:8).

That’s a pretty good guide for positive living in contemporary culture. It presents an alternative option for life in modern Britain, one where young people won’t need to be taught to navigate a minefield in the hope that they might somehow arrive in adult life unscathed.