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Tackling the normalisation of online sexual violence in RSHE lessons

An independent report into online sexual harm has indicated that many young people are exposed to online incidents to such a degree that some consider this a ‘normal’ part of everyday life.

Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) lessons within a whole-school PSHE Programme, are an opportunity to confront these issues, facilitate open conversation and support young people to discern what is acceptable or unacceptable online behaviour and communication, all within a safe learning space.

Social media interactions can be ‘24/7’ and instant responses, such as ‘likes’ and the gratification associated with them are also accompanied by the opportunity for immediate shaming, bullying and sexual harm. The report states: “Many [of the young people surveyed] related personal experiences in which they, or others they knew, received unsolicited explicit sexual images, or requests or coercive messages to send such images to others. This was particularly apparent for female participants, a number of whom reflected on the ‘normality’ of this.”

It’s deeply concerning that young people might become desensitised to this kind of social media communication and potential abuse, and that they could make the assumption that this is part and parcel of the development of technology and lives led increasingly online.

For some young people, the dangers of being online and the potential harm this can cause is not obvious and some hold a false sense of security online.

A 14 year old female interviewee commented: “If I saw a creepy man walking down the road, I’d walk the other way, while if a person messaged me, they had no profile picture and then they seemed normal, I’d engage in conversation because, you know, they seem normal, they don’t look dangerous or harmful. So, it’s like that, the way you see people, the way you view them, there’s two different ways.”

The report highlights the importance of a shared responsibility between parents and carers, schools, industry and wider society on tackling sexual harm online. In schools, effective PSHE and RSE lessons offer opportunities to discuss these issues and equip young people to manage their online lives safely, and pastoral systems should be equipped to support young people.

A whole-school approach is essential. A well-structured programme of high quality PSHE taught by professionals who understand the issues and empathise with young people and the ‘approval culture’ they are often subjected to with their online communications is vital to educating students to be discerning online and to keep themselves safe. Ideally, parents and carers will be part of this process alongside the school, teachers and students, working together to empower young people and keep them safe.

The report serves to highlight why PSHE in school is crucial, and ahead of the implementation of statutory RSHE in September 2020, schools are encouraged to consider how well they cover online relationships and safety in their programmes.

Jigsaw PSHE resources are a mindful approach to PSHE (11-16) to help you approach lessons in a well-planned, structured way. You can find out more about our resources on our website.

The new NCFE qualifications cover all the statutory requirements for Relationships, Sex and Health Education and give young people recognition for their work and evidence schools’ commitment to doing this work well. For more information, visit the NCFE website or request a call back from one of their advisors.

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