Adoloscence should be the happiest time of life but 13 year olds find themselves facing anxieties caused by new freedoms, un-certain futures and pressures to achieve academically. Making the right action steps at an early age is key to later success and happiness. Sexual Consent is just one aspect of Build My Future, a game designed to allow adolescents the chance to talk to teachers and local employees about ways to achieving a balance in life,including the right decisions about sexual consent.
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Please see this article based on research from Jennifer Cassarly at
Dangerous stereotypical beliefs around sexual violence and consent are evident among children as young as 11 – new research from Teesside University has found.
Youngsters are subscribing to common myths around victim blaming, female dress and location when it comes to perceptions of sexual consent.
Jennifer Cassarly, who is carrying out a Psychology PhD at Teesside University and conducted the in-depth study, is calling for more comprehensive education from the age of 11 upwards, tackling consent and how it is communicated.
For the first time in 18 years, the Department of Education has updated its Relationship and Sex Education guidance and, from 2020, it will be statutory in secondary schools, with the guidance stating that pupils must be taught about consent.
But Jennifer is concerned that the guidance has targets to be met ‘by the end of secondary school’ and the topics to be addressed are at a school’s discretion.
She said: “Many secondary schools do teach about consent but it is often not until Year 9 and the lessons focus on sexual intercourse. My research shows that consent education is needed as early as Year 7- at the beginning of secondary school. The key is to teach young people about consent in developmentally-appropriate ways, such as talking about sexual consent as it relates to kissing, sexting and sexual touching - behaviours that are not uncommon among pupils in Years 7 and 8.”
Jennifer has carried out a study with groups of 11 to 13-years-olds at three schools in Northern England.
Alarmingly, the overwhelming majority of both boys and girls endorsed a number of commonly held sexual violence myths.
She presented the youngsters with three fictional scenarios, all of which involved verbal coercion by the male in the story and were designed to explore ideas around sexual consent.
One scenario was about kissing, another was about sexting and the third was about sexual touching on top of clothing. In all three scenarios, the girl gave clear signals that she wanted the activity to stop.
Jennifer said: “What is clear is that a number of commonly held sexual violence myths were endorsed by both boys and girls when we were discussing the different scenarios.
“In all three scenarios the female character always expressed that the sexual activity was unwanted either by using clear body language or, in the sexting scenario, through text. And, while these expressions were acknowledged by the people in the study to be signals of non-consent, they believed it was still primarily the female’s responsibility to do more to control the situation.
“The conversations about the scenarios focussed on what the female could have done to either prevent the situations from occurring in the first place, or stop the situations from escalating. The youngsters were holding her more responsible than the male protagonist. This is clear victim blaming, an attitude we have been aware of for many years and that has been frequently found among older teens and young adults.
“Another myth was around female dress. In the fondling scenario, the female character was wearing a low cut, V-neck top. The girls in the groups talked about clothing and how the boy may have misread the cues. Some boys in the groups thought she was consenting by wearing a certain type of clothing. What is especially concerning is that these problematic beliefs are already present among children as young as 11.”
Another myth endorsed by the young people in the groups was about location. Both boys and girls in the groups believed that if a girl agreed to go to a boy’s house or bedroom, they were then showing a willingness and consenting to further sexual activity by being in a certain space.
Jennifer added: “These myths and thoughts are nothing new and, unfortunately, are well established among the older generation in our society. What is new is that we are seeing these thoughts prevalent in children as young as 11 and we need to understand what has contributed to the development of these problematic beliefs. Does it come from the media? Is it from their peers? Are they overhearing conversations from older children at school?
“We are in danger of normalising these kinds of thoughts and we need to be speaking to young people about consent and how it is communicated.”
Jennifer cited a case at an unnamed school where a six-year-old girl was sexually assaulted numerous times in the playground when staff were present. On one occasion the boys were told to go away by staff and the girl was reprimanded for having her clothing down in front of other children.
“Victim blaming culture is something we have to get away from,” said Jennifer.
“This was a particularly shocking case but peer on peer sexual violence does happen and it is happening at an alarmingly early age. We need to educate our children and have these difficult discussions with them early on so that they are very clear about what is right and wrong.”
The next step of Jennifer’s work will be to go back to the schools where the studies took place and facilitate lessons for larger groups of pupils around consent, sexual violence myths and how to communicate in relationships.
“People think that consent is black and white, but it is one of the most complex areas to understand, especially for younger people,” explained Jennifer.
“My work has shown that children aged from 11 to 13-years-old are reinforcing a lot of sexual violence stereotypes. They are learning this from somewhere. Surely it is better to talk to them in developmentally-appropriate ways about subjects like consent from an early age so that we take preventative measures and combat these stereotypes that are so common and so dangerous in our society.”