Why sex ed plays a role in the fight against sexual violence

Posted on October, 1 2018 by Action Canada

Ottawa Citizen TRACEY LINDEMAN

Sexual education for students has become a political flashpoint in Ontario.

The Ford government’s decision to repeal more progressive Wynne-era school curriculum has resulted in the omission of subjects such as gender identity, tech safety and consent.

It’s a move that has polarized Ontarians. As the province moves ahead with consultations on what kind of curriculum will be introduced, experts say the stakes go beyond preventing infections and diseases, to the root of a culture plagued by sexual violence.

In Canada, 20 per cent of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes — a fact that hasn’t changed in at least 30 years. Statistics Canada says lesbians and bisexual women are at even higher risk of sexual violence. In some Indigenous communities in Ontario, as many as 90 per cent of women have reported being assaulted. In 2016, there were 93,000 Canadians who reported being victims of domestic violence; 79 per cent of them were women. Between 1997 and 2016, 1,800 people were killed by an intimate partner.

“High-profile sexual assault cases like the Ghomeshi case, along with the significant rates of sexual violence in our communities and on campuses, clearly suggest that more needs to be done, and more needs to be done at an earlier stage,” says Sandeep Prasad, the executive director of Action Canada For Sexual Health and Rights.

Experts say that getting children early education about notions such as consent is key to reducing the level of sexual violence in our society.

Control groups in research and youth anti-violence programs such as the U.S.-based Safe Dates have found that recurring conversations with kids about gender equality, power dynamics and consent help reduce rates of sexual violence.

Chris Farley Ratcliffe, executive director of Planned Parenthood Ottawa, says he’s concerned that waiting too long to have these kinds of talks with young people will have serious adverse effects.

“The behavioural change that’s required for people to get an in-depth understanding of consent and of healthy relationships is not a one-and-done workshop. It needs to be repeated interventions,” says Farley Ratcliffe. “By eliminating consent conversations and starting to build that understanding in the elementary years, we’ve losing a lot of behavioural-change time.

Setting new standards for sex ed

Across Canada, the story of sex education has historically been one of anatomy and preventing negative consequences such as sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy, Prasad says.

Some estimates date the origins of sex ed in Ontario to the late 1800s. At the time, it was considered a tool to help the spread of venereal disease. The sexual liberation movement of the 1960s — and later the AIDS crisis of the 1980s — helped shape conventional sex ed to include information about unwanted pregnancies and social issues related to teen sex.

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