Special: Sex education is vital if we will stop the scourge of sexual violence

Sex Education

Shortly after I turned eight, my father threatened to shoot me. Now, my university-educated father was a pacifist; an upright accountant. But he had the temper tantrum of a stormy sea. Our household had the misfortune of experiencing his dark moods when a thirteen-year-old cousin fell pregnant for our fourteen-year-old neighbour. A cloud of gloom hung over our roof as the adults stormed around the house exchanging blames (why hadn’t anyone provided sex education?) and threats (that riffraff must be incarcerated). At some point, my world-weary father halted me in the dimly lit corridor to say, “If you ever do what she did, I’ll shoot you.”

Thus, my first lesson in sex education was heralded. There were no condoms, no bananas and certainly, no plastic vaginas. I walked away with questions swirling in my head. My inquiries were partially answered in a Biology lesson on Reproduction. During my compulsory national service program, I volunteered part-time with the Women For Change NGO, and got my first medically-accurate lecture in sex education.

So what’s comprehensive sex education?

Sex education is a curriculum that covers a broad range of topics such as human development, personal skills, relationships, sexual behavior, sexual health, gender norms, diversity, and media-promoted sexuality.

The benefits of sex education are too numerous to mention, but for the purpose of this article, we will explore five ways in which a comprehensive sex ed curriculum can help to curb the scourge of sexual violence.

  1. Equips Children With The Skills To Recognize and Resist Unhealthy Sexual Contact

As an educator and activist, I understand that my five-year-old daughter and four-year-old son ought to receive age-appropriate sex education course.  Not wanting to rely on their school or our church, I provided a crash course in kindergarten anatomy.  They know what their public and private body parts are and that their private body parts shouldn’t be touched.

Routinely, I organize informal assessment sessions in which I ask the following questions:

  • Name the parts of the body that constitute the private and public parts.
  • What are the two main types of touches?
  • What’s a good touch? What’s a bad touch?
  • What’s the term for playing with or touching your (or another person’s) private parts?
  • Mention five things you should do to prevent being sexually abused.
  • List the bad things that can happen to you if you stay silent when someone is abusing you.

The course involves singing sex ed rhymes and enforcing precautionary measures (no adult films in the house, not bathing them together etc.). I have a long way to go, but I’m happy with the progress we’ve made. For instance, during baths, my daughter would scold, “Why are you washing my bumbum. Don’t touch my bumbum.” Therefore, I taught her to wash her vagina and anus by herself.

Experts posit that children ought to start receiving sex education from kindergarten (age two). Through sex education, children gain the requisite knowledge, skills and vocabulary for registering protests and reporting abuse. Introverted children and those who have speech disorders require more patience during these lectures. Experience has shown that such children tend to be susceptible to abuse as predators expect them to be easily cowered into silence.

  1. Debunks Dangerous Myths

Working as a volunteer sex educator enlightened and exposed me to shocking tales of sex (mis)education; stories riddled with myths such as:

  • Within 24 hours of getting your first period, you must succumb to forced defilement or you’ll die.
  • I went back to my rapist because he had already defiled me and promised to marry me.
  • Uncircumcised girls are doomed to a life of sexual promiscuity.
  • If a man touches you (or shakes your hand), you’ll get pregnant.
  • I was responsible for my sexual exploitation.
  • If I reported the abuse, he’d (or she’d) have hurt me and my family.
  • Girls, who ripen too early, in their teens, should be married off to older men. Or hopeless boys will inevitably have a field day ruining their womanhood.

These propagated myths did little to increase girls’ knowledge of sex. Instead, it encouraged risky sexual behaviours and increased incidences of sexual violence. Rather than depend on religious organizations, governments should make policies that mandate the provision of research-proven, LGBTQ inclusive sex education (yes, because girls sexually abuse girls and boys rape boys too) in schools. Ignorance isn’t bliss; at least not for those women whose lives have been ruined or scarred.

  1. Debunks dangerous gender norms

A recent study revealed that adherence to harmful gender norms increases risky sexual behaviour among young people. When females feel subjugated in their relationships, they are more likely to contract STIs.

Take Chichi’s story, as an example. In her mid-teens, another girl had taken her to visit a male classmate. Shortly after their arrival, the girl gave a lame excuse and snuck out. The boy locked the door and proceeded to sexually assault Chichi. ”I screamed and fought until an elderly woman—a neighbour—threatened to break the locks. But the boy had almost broken my hymen,” Chichi narrated in between sobs. “And although I resented my treacherous friend and the boy, I blamed myself for the assault. When the boy showed up proposing marriage and love, I thought, he’d taken my precious virginity. I might as well, submit to his demands.”

Therefore, the sexual abuse continued unreported because both Chichi and her rapist had misguided notions about gender power and sexuality. Research studies have shown that a comprehensive sex education course can:

  • Change perceptions of power in relationships.
  • Engender critical thinking regarding gender customs
  • Teach students to treasure and protect themselves.
  • Transform notions of gender, power and sexuality.
  • Empower people to deal with the stigma of rape, identify toxic relationships and challenge abusive conducts.

 

  1. Informs The General Public About Helplines and Call Centers To Reach Our To When There’s Been Sexual Violence.

Often, victims of sexual violence are confused and disoriented. There heads are usually muddled up with the wrong thoughts and negative emotions.  They know that they need to get help, but they don’t know where to seek assistance. Perpetrators of sexual violence know this and that’s why they take advantage of the lack of knowledge.

During sex education, people can get the contact details and helplines to call in the event of an attack. A trained call center agent can guide the victim on what to do and where to go. And if the victim needs to be transcported to a hospital, a call center agent can help them and provide empathy, understanding and legal advice. Yes, legal advice because rape victims need to know that they shouldn’t wash away the evidence and that they should  get a medical report immediately after an attack.

As sex education becomes a part of our curriculum, our society might need to set up more call centers for  victims. Government and non-govemmental agencies  will see the need to set up centers all over the country. Thankfully, you don’t need a PhD to know how to start a call center. And setting up these centers isn’t capital intensive project and telecommunications companies can provide these services as part of their CSR. Before you start wondering about the logistics involved, I’d like to state that technology has changed the face of contact centers. We can start with one that is remotely run and equipped with cloud-based call center tools.

People are more likely to report if they didn’t have to drag their distraught selves to a far-flung policestation , where they’d be asked to pay bribes before they can file a statement. I don’t even want to talk about how they might be blamed and shamed for being raped.

  1. Empowers People With Communication Skills

The #MeToo movement focused on shaming sexual predators—mostly influential badly-raised men who lacked the skills to heed their victim’s protests. The movement elicited the publication of reprisal essays from confused and alarmed men (and women) who wanted to be educated on the best way to approach women ( and men). In fact, many progressive men publicly vowed to abstain, temporarily, from wooing women.

In a survey carried out in a Nigerian university, many young men admitted to misreading signals of consent and protests. Young women said they’d been too afraid to decry sexual violence and assault, even when they had been victims of the injustice.

Early education can impart effective two-way communication skills in young people. Sexual violence can be curbed if people were educated about consent, courteous physical contact, abuse and assault.

  1. Teaches Valuable Lessons In Empathy and Vulnerability

Back to my point of providing early sex education for children. It is dangerous to allow children to get random cues from their environment. Half the time, the knowledge they get is half-baked and harmful. Abusive children lack empathy and are apt to inflict pain on other children because abuse is all they have witnessed. You need to teach them what is right and what is socially unacceptable.

Final thoughts:

We, as a society, have to take steps towards ending the scourge of rape. The statistics are alarming and disturbing. Someone once described our country as a society that breeds rapists and that’s sad.

There is a lot we can do. However, providing sex education is a very good place to start. We mustn’t wait until there is another sex scandal before we do something about this problem. As a people we can promote and provide early sex education for youngsters, debunk stereotypes especially on socal media and encourage victims to report attacks. Again, the governments and other non-profit organisations can provide important infrastructure like contact center equipment, toll-free helplines, websites and social media forums where victims can get support and find succour.

There’s no doubt that we need to tackle social justice issues that seem to promote sex crimes. I’m referring to social justice problems like gender discrimination, poverty and so on. However, providing medically accurate sex education should be the first step. People are likely to act responsibly when they have all the facts and understand the consequences of their actions.

 

Let’s start promoting inclusive sex education for all.

 

 

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