Classes on consent in secondary school are needed due to ‘significant levels of hostility and violence’ pupils encounter by the time they leave.
Every year, some 22,000 students at 22 third-level institutions participate in consent classes and yesterday an Oireachtas Committee called for them to be introduced in secondary schools as well.
UCC Law Professor Louise Crowley leads the college’s Bystander Intervention programme which teaches students about issues such as consent, sexual assault and abusive relationsips.
Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, Professor Crowley said it is clear many young people have experienced sexual violence on a “regular basis” well before they leave home.
“We know that students are coming into us at third-level already have experienced significant levels of sexual hostility and even violence,” she said.
Professor Crowley said many young people are bombarded with information online about sex and relationships and it is important that adults help them separate the facts from fiction.
“Understanding what consent is and, perhaps more pertinently, what isn’t consent and being able to communicate consent and also recognise when consent is being communicated to you is something that’s really critical in terms of their knowledge,” she said.
“We must remember that a lot of young people’s knowledge comes from the internet, which as we know, can be a great source of information but also undoubtedly be the source of falsehoods and even toxic messages.”
Professor Crowley said pornography is a “horrific problem” and children are watching it at increasingly younger ages.
“What they’re seeing is a portrayal of a perceived relationship which we know represents abuse and power and is the furthest thing from a loving and respectful relationship that you can imagine,” she said.
“So, having conversations about porn, bringing those conversations into the classroom is not any form of grooming or inappropriate conversation… We have to give them the truth.
“We have to give them the information and allow them to discern how toxic those images are.”
'No push back from parents'
A pilot Bystander Programme has already been rolled out in 50 schools nationwide and Professor Crowley said it has been well-received in communities.
“There was no push back from parents,” she said.
“The parents were sending in the consent forms immediately because I think they really value this opportunity for young people to have what can be a difficult conversation with parents.”
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Main image: A school teacher and his class.