Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE)
Figures released in 2018 revealed that five child sex offences are recorded in Northern Ireland every day (Belfast Telegraph – Five sex crimes against Northern Ireland children reported daily). Childline has reported that there has been a huge increase in the number of young people in Northern Ireland seeking counselling about child-on-child sexual abuse. Often, children and young people do not understand that what has happened to them is, in fact, abuse.
Effective relationships and sexuality education can help pupils to recognise potentially exploitive and dangerous situations and how to take preventative action. When they understand safe boundaries and consent, this can help them to develop essential qualities like respect, resilience and self-esteem.
This area of the RSE Hub signposts to resources and guidance information that can help teachers, parents/carers, and children and young people explore issues around consent and how to stay safe.
Children as young as four should start exploring the concept of safe boundaries, understanding that their body belongs to them and them alone. They should recognise what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and touch, and that attention which makes them feel uncomfortable may be putting them in an unsafe situation.
They should learn about their rights over their own bodies, respectful relationships, peer (and adult) pressure and their responsibilities towards others. They should be aware and confident of their right to say no and to report abuse.
Children must know what to do if they feel unsafe at any time. Good practice in the classroom includes:
- displaying photos of key staff that pupils can approach in noticeable areas throughout the school; and
- having a worry box in the classroom, school office or at safeguarding display boards.
Learning about consent should start before young people are sexually active. Young people should know that sexual activity is illegal under the age of 16 – the age of consent. They should also know and understand that the person seeking consent is responsible for ensuring that:
- consent is clearly given; and
- the person has the freedom and capacity to give consent.
Teaching about consent involves developing knowledge and skills around making appropriate choices, mitigating risk, verbal and non-verbal communication, managing manipulative situations, negotiation, challenging myths and respecting the rights of others as well as themselves.
Young people should understand that consent is not confined to situations of a sexual nature, but to other decision-making situations within relationships, and may relate to online as well as offline situations.