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Sex education in school curriculum needs big shake-up

Should there be a uniformed approach to child sexual abuse and exploitation-prevention classes in Bermuda schools?

I first want to state that I understand that this topic cannot be covered in its entirety in one article. I also can appreciate that it is a very sensitive topic, and most times one that is swept under the rug. That alone is one of the biggest contributing factors as to why the statistics surrounding child abuse are what they are today. It is my hope that after reading this article, conversations can be started that will lead ultimately to action.

Rakaya Simmons

It may be argued by some that sex education is already in the curriculum. I would like to mention that I do not intend to offend or call out anyone in particular; however, the lack of uniformity in public schools regarding how sex education is taught needs to be addressed. Moreover, it needs to be established that there is more to sex education than promoting abstinence.

We are aware that minors are engaging in sexual activity; that is well known. Thus, it is my belief that it would be beneficial to focus on child sexual abuse and exploitation-prevention classes. Some may say that their child or children receive the safe-touch talks and what is acceptable as a young lady/man. However, there are some parents who do not know what their child is being taught regarding safe sex and reporting to a trusted adult when they are uncomfortable or have been abused.

Is the process of reporting at school explained in detail? Is it more than just a lesson with the teacher or faculty member reading off information from a pamphlet? Or is there also student engagement to ensure that the understanding is there? Is there data to show that the existing curriculum surrounding these topics has been helpful in combating these issues? Are members of faculty reporting when they can see inappropriate behaviour? These are very important questions that unfortunately I cannot say can be answered in a favourable manner.

My first year of law school is when I learnt about unlawful carnal knowledge and the laws regarding grooming, and that a minor — anyone below the legal age of 16 — cannot consent to any sexual activity. However, the conversation around these topics should begin in senior school at the latest. These topics need to be taught so that students understand laws, including that you do not need to physically abuse someone to be in the wrong or to potentially face legal ramifications.

The goal is not to regurgitate the law to the students; it is to inform them so that they can be more responsible and make more informed decisions. Additionally, making the process of reporting easier and more visible needs to be a priority. After speaking with some of my peers, I realised that, unfortunately, there is not an in-depth understanding about what is legal and appropriate, and what is not.

A law establishing how this topic should be addressed in schools would be beneficial in this climate. Furthermore, a law requiring all public schools to teach child sexual abuse and exploitation-prevention classes to students would ensure that all students receive the same education and that the school would be held accountable. This is not a topic that should be brushed under the rug; it is one that needs to be faced head-on.

I should also note that it is the collective responsibility of the parent and the school to ensure that our children are informed. Children spend most of their time in a school setting, and if the topic is going to be addressed, it needs to be done fully and effectively. The issue is that all students across the island are not receiving the same thorough teachings and the present curriculum must be reviewed.

There simply needs to be more accountability, as sexual abuse and exploitation-prevention classes are fundamental. I am not implying that they are more important than the rest of the subjects — but they are just as important and should be treated as such. These are not topics that we can afford to be nonchalant about or get wrong. More needs to be done; it is as simple as that.

I hope that I have intrigued the reader enough to start asking questions. Like mentioned, there is so much more that needs to be discussed; more than one article can cover. I want to end with this: we as the villages who raise the youth must do better on their behalf.

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Published May 10, 2022 at 7:52 am (Updated May 10, 2022 at 7:43 am)

Sex education in school curriculum needs big shake-up

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