RCNI calls on the next government to take action to make it “Safe to Learn” thus ensuring the safety of young people from sexual violence in secondary schools

RCNI Press Release 20th February 2016

RCNI calls on the next government to take action to make it “Safe to Learn” thus ensuring the safety of young people from sexual violence in secondary schools

All children and young people should have the opportunity to learn in a safe environment. Safety includes freedom from the threat, fear or fact of all forms of sexual violence, and there is a statutory obligation to ensure same; however, we are currently not meeting that obligation.

RCNI’s 2016 Manifesto outlines three steps necessary to meet these obligations:

  1. Introducing a national policy for all secondary schools of proactive, zero tolerance towards sexual violence
  2. National guidelines and policy for schools to fully support victims and alleged abusers in schools
  3. Comprehensive, mandatory best practice curriculum content

Dr. Clíona Saidléar, Strategic & Programme Executive, RCNI said, “Our work in rape crisis centres working with child survivors proves that sexual harassment, threat, fear and indeed sexual assault is experienced by children in our schools. Unfortunately, no research exists to define the scale and extent of this problem; instead we are relying on the individual testimony of children and young people attending rape crisis centres.

“Therefore, the next government must urgently build an understanding of the challenge that exists, while supporting schools to proactively address the issue. And we must also empower children through effective, evidence-based interventions.”

Dr. Saidléar said, “School communities need to explicitly promote zero tolerance of sexual harassment and violence. In the absence of a zero tolerance approach, the RCNI analysis is that a comprehensive sexual violence policy is lost between the Action Plan on Bullying, which fails to address sexual harassment and violence (bar cyberbullying), and Children First, which addresses how individual incidents are effectively reported to and handled by the authorities but does not prevent them from happening in the first place. We must do all we can to prevent crimes of sexual violence, from happening, and we have a duty to our children to ensure that they are safe to learn.”

“We fear that in this absence, what children learn is to minimise, laugh off, deny, or indeed to tolerate sexual violence, either as a perpetrator or target.”

Secondly, RCNI is clear that post-primary schools face significant challenges in responding to the complex support and care needs of child victims and indeed child perpetrators in their school community, which are inadequately addressed in Children First. Given the centrality of the school community in a teenager’s life, national guidance needs to be put in place to assist schools to support child victims and aggressors, reducing instances of secondary trauma and preventing negative impacts on their school performance. This will support an appropriate justice response through Children First actions.

Thirdly, RCNI’s 2014 report, Young People, Alcohol and sex: What’s consent got to do with it?[1], a qualitative study of college students’ understanding of sexual consent and alcohol consumption demonstrated that young people themselves concluded that they lacked preparedness to negotiate consent safely, leaving them vulnerable to sexual violence.

Dr. Saidléar said: “Curriculum content needs to address consent, and we very much welcome the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence’s commitment here, but urge consideration of how the “safe to learn” goal can be met when curriculum content of such importance remains optional. Making schools safe to learn must be a government-led priority for any incoming Minister for Education.”

END

RCNI’s election manifesto can be found on http://www.rcni.ie/wp-content/uploads/RCNI-Manifesto-Final.pdf

 

[1] Young people, alcohol and sex: What’s Consent got to do with it?, Padraig Mac Neela, NUIG, 2014