Schools are failing to teach children about the dangers of sexual abuse and the legal rights and wrongs governing sexual relationships, the NSPCC has warned.
A survey of nearly 2,000 children and young people revealed that eight out of 10 did not know that it was illegal for a 30-year-old man to sexually touch a 15-year-old girl. The same proportion did not consider a relationship between a 16-year-old and a teacher an abusive situation.
The overwhelming majority of young people who were encouraged to fill in an online questionnaire as part of the child protection charity’s ongoing Don’t Hide It campaign said that current sex education lessons did not cover sexual abuse.
The NSPCC is calling for sex and relationship education (SRE) to be included in personal, health and social education (PHSE) as part of the national curriculum. Currently schools are only required to “have regard” to government guidance when developing their SRE policies.
In an attempt to plug the gap, the charity is sending out pocket-sized information cards to pupils telling them what sexual abuse is and where to go to for help.
Head of child protection awareness at the charity Chris Cloke said: “Sex is a minefield for young people. They face a daily barrage of conflicting messages about sex and yet they don’t have the knowledge to guide them through it.
“We must arm young people with a clear knowledge of where the law stands on sex and what constitutes sexual abuse. That way children will have more confidence to speak out.
“Three quarters of children who have been sexually abused do not speak out about it at the time.”
However, the Department for Education and Skills insisted there was already scope to discuss issues regarding abuse in PSHE classes, where students could access information and help if they were being abused or were in a coercive relationship.