Sex and relationships education should be compulsory in all state-funded schools

One in six teenagers in relationships say they've experienced sexual violence. One in three teenage girls say they've had to put up with unwanted groping or harassment in school itself. Shockingly, in 2012, the Children's Commissioner said that 2,400 children are the victims of sexual exploitation by groups and gangs - with a further 16,500 identified as being at risk.

These are sobering statistics.

We should, as a nation, be working hard to ensure the devastating legacy of domestic and sexual violence is not passed on to a new generation. Yet, the opposite seems to be happening.

I'm worried there is still far too much complacency when it comes to tackling sexual and violent behaviour towards our young women and girls.

Perhaps this is because people take for granted the progress made on gender equality over the years, assuming everything possible is being done to progress it further still. Maybe, they hadn't realised the scale of the problem. Or perhaps, worst of all, until recently, they thought this behaviour and these attitudes towards young girls were just one of those uncomfortable facts of life that we all have to accept.

But no one should ever have to accept being treated like this and the Labour Party is prepared to challenge the tacit tolerance of violence and sexual harassment. And that starts with education.

Much more needs to be done to prevent violence in the first place - and the best way to do this is to make sure young people learn respect for each other and themselves.

For Labour, this means making sex and relationships education compulsory in all state-funded schools, as part of a curriculum that takes a zero tolerance approach to violence in relationships too.

Developing respect among young people, for each other and for themselves, is vital. No one wants to see a society in which young boys grow up with the mistaken belief that it is more 'masculine' to bully or sexually abuse. No one wants young girls growing up believing that abuse is normal, or that they have to accept sexual coercion or violence in a relationship. The respect and resilience teenagers develop today can help prevent violence and abusive relationships for decades to come and sex and relationships education has a vital role to play.

Further, the digital age means that violent, abusive, sexual images are only ever a few clicks away, and being exposed to these can have a profound effect on young people's understanding of sex and relationships. From sexually explicit text messages, to violent threats and online bullying via social media, young people today have a different world to navigate than previous generations.

Yet official guidance on sex and relationships education for schools dates from 2000 and simply doesn't reflect the online and digital revolution that has occurred since. Teachers are left with little advice on how to cope with issues like sexting and cyber bullying.

So, we are left in a situation where the evidence suggests that teenagers are exposed to ever-more explicit material, and attitudes towards violence and sexual abuse amongst young people seem to be deteriorating, yet one in three young people say they've never been taught about the importance of consent. It really is time for change.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have had an opportunity to vote in support of Labour’s calls for compulsory sex and relationships education in schools - and failed to do so on multiple occasions. Urgent action is needed to protect our children and young people. The coalition government cannot avert its eyes any longer. A Labour Government will change the law to bring in the compulsory sex and relationship education we need, and help prevent violence and harassment haunting future generations too.

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Sex and relationships education should be compulsory in all state-funded schools.

Sex and relationships education should be compulsory in all state-funded…