The Peter Mitchell Churchill Fellowship to research new, practical and effective methods to prevent sexual violence through youth education - Germany, Netherlands, UK, Ireland, Canada, USA

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Germany
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Netherlands
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The Peter Mitchell Churchill Fellowship to research new, practical and effective methods to prevent sexual violence through youth education - Germany, Netherlands, UK, Ireland, Canada, USA featured image

My Fellowship aimed to learn from international experience in the design and implementation of relationships and sex education (RSE) for children and young people.


Why is RSE needed? What should it look like and how should it be delivered? What is required to achieve successful implementation of RSE? What are the risks to implementation and how can they be mitigated? I sought the answers to these questions in my Fellowship travels across Ireland, the United Kingdom, Cologne, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States between May and July 2019. I sought to discover whether the practical perspective would testify to the power of RSE to equip children and young people with the skills they need in order to pursue wellbeing. I wanted to see what RSE content, methods and modes of delivery should look like in practice. 


I did experience these things, but as I travelled my focus was increasingly drawn to the issue of implementation. Why, in the face of credible evidence in favour of RSE, do so many jurisdictions fail to turn the best intentions into action? What preconditions are necessary for RSE to take off? How can RSE implementation efforts be sheltered from the winds of ignorance, fear-mongering, opposition and resourcing impediments? How can communities be mobilised to take up the fight for their young people’s wellbeing? 


This report hopes to answer some of those questions, and to provide a useful resource for advocates, governments, schools, teachers, parents and communities who are considering implementing RSE. Above all, it seeks to advocate on behalf of all young people, for their right to access comprehensive information and education that will empower them to pursue fulfilling lives.

Broadly, my report presents findings in four areas:


  1. The case for comprehensive relationships and sex education (RSE);
  2. RSE design features;
  3. Implementation success factors;
  4. Risks to implementation and mitigation strategies.

Based on my findings, this report includes a series of recommendations across all four areas directed at a range of sectors and stakeholders. 


THE CASE FOR COMPREHENSIVE RSE

Comprehensive RSE for children and young people promotes wellbeing for all and is known to be effective in reducing the incidence of negative sexual experiences and sexualised violence. Poor sexual wellbeing, sexual harassment and sexualised violence are issues that have received increased community attention, within Australia and abroad. Gradually, RSE is being recognised as the key to combatting this social ill.


RSE DESIGN FEATURES: CONTENT AND MODES OF DELIVERY

Across the jurisdictions I visited, certain RSE design features were consistently present or endorsed as contributing to efficacy. To that end, RSE must:


  • Utilise multiple sites of intervention
  • Be holistic
  • Be age-appropriate, repeated and consistent
  • Start in early childhood
  • Normalise a positive approach to sexuality and wellbeing
  • Promote diversity and inclusivity
  • Be modified appropriately for particular groups
  • Incorporate evaluation and protection mechanisms


IMPLEMENTATION SUCCESS FACTORS:

Across jurisdictions I observed several consistent factors contributing to the successful implementation of RSE:


  1. ADVOCATE Advocacy, lobbyism and pioneering 
  2. COMMIT Structural support from government and public institutions 
  3. RECOGNISE Recognising RSE as a specialist field, prioritising evidence & expertise 
  4. EQUP Effectively equip the school site for RSE delivery, with adequate training and support for educators 
  5. ENGAGE Inclusion and engagement of parents and caregivers 
  6. EVALUATE Evaluation and accountability

These factors are defined by how effectively the power of advocates, governments, schools, parents, community members and young people can be harnessed as agents in the battle for universal access to comprehensive RSE. To this end, my report provides some detail as to how these factors operate and can best be mobilised.


RISKS TO IMPLEMENTATION AND MITIGATION STRATEGIES

However, even where each of these factors are present, RSE implementation may still be vulnerable to risks presented by resourcing impediments or, significantly, opposition. Fear and misinformation contribute to the likelihood of opposition arising and/or succeeding in derailing RSE initiatives. Mitigation strategies must focus on: 


  • Retaining structural support e.g. relying on evidence, international collaboration, communicating community interest to politicians. 
  • Keeping schools on board e.g. word of mouth, reputation and engaging school boards. 
  • Engaging and persuading parents e.g. ensuring transparency, providing evidence and information. 
  • Harnessing the media e.g. informing the story and pre-empting propaganda efforts by conservative pundits with specific facts and details.

Keywords: RSE, SEND, sexuality, wellbeing, sexual violence, sexual harassment, puberty, reproduction, childhood, education, opposition

Fellow

Katrina Marson

Katrina Marson

Katrina Marson

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