Three Reasons Sexual Assault Centres Support Sex Ed

Standard

This September, Ontario will revert to an outdated 1998 sex-ed curriculum. Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) believes that this shift will adversely impact Ontario’s young people.

Providing comprehensive sex-ed is first and foremost “about making sure that young people receive the information they need and are entitled to in order to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives”. With the repealing of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum, Ontario youth will miss out on the following vital content:

I. Education which fosters the prevention of sexual violence

Ontario’s 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum includes information about equitable and safe relationships, consent, sexual violence and online violence that young people need today. This is particularly important because we know that young populations are at a high statistical risk of experiencing sexual violence. For example:

  • In a Canadian criminal justice report, males made up 29% of child victims and 12% of youth victims¹. For males, being under 12 years old heightens their vulnerability to being targeted for sexual offences²
  • Young women between the ages of 15 and 25 years in Canada are the age group most likely to experience sexual or relationship violence³
  • Young women from excluded groups are more vulnerable to being targeted for sexual harassment and sexual assault4. This includes women of colour, disabled women, intersex, queer, trans, and Two Spirit women.

Education on sexual violence goes a long way towards prevention. Education offers innovative ways to challenge sexual assault myths and victim-blaming; and to reach out to diverse and young populations to talk about things that they may not be having conversations about at home. Education on sexual violence contributes to the prevention of sexual assault by:

  • supporting young people to understand their rights. By being prepared to offer information about sexual violence, educators help equip young people with a clear understanding of their bodies, their rights and where to go should they ever need support.
  • identifying the continuum of sexual violence (from harassment to rape)
  • supporting young people to challenge sexual assault myths
  • knowing the laws concerning sexual assault and consent

Education can also help others learn how to respond to survivors who disclose their experiences, and direct them to helpful supports in the community. Research indicates that many survivors wish to talk about their experiences, but fear the reactions of others. When survivors receive a positive response from their disclosures, the benefits of talking about one’s experience of sexual violence are in fact “associated with improved psychological health, increased comfort, support, and validation, and desired outcomes such as penalizing the perpetrator and protecting others”5. Other research shows that young survivors are most likely to disclose to a peer, family member or someone with whom they have a prior trusting relationship (that is, not necessarily to a social worker or other professional)6.

For these reasons alone, it’s important to talk with young people about sexual violence in the very spaces in which they spend much of their time – including at school.

II. Education which includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, questioning and Two Spirit (LGBTQI2S)7 folks in its approach to health

Young people whose families identify as LGBTQI2S – and youth who are LGBTQI2S – can see themselves reflected in the updated (2015) Ontario Health & Physical Education Curriculum content. Other youth can see LGBTQI2S individuals and families reflected in the curriculum, as well.

The inclusion of LGBTQI2S people and communities in the curriculum reflects the lived realities of diverse sexuality, gender identity, gender expression and diverse bodies in Ontario. When these realities are not intentionally included, many in our community become socially excluded. This can mean internal and external stigmatization, discrimination, victimization by others, lack of societal understanding, secrecy or concealment within social environments8. We also know that, like many others from excluded or marginalized communities, LGBTQI2S people experience sexual violence differently than others: for example, young women from marginalized groups are more vulnerable to being targeted for sexual violence9; and according to TransPulse, half of all trans persons experience sexual violence.

For these reasons, it is vitally important that the Ontario Health & Physical Education Curriculum maintains content on diverse ways of being, including sexual identity, gender identity and gender expression.

III. Education which fosters youth mental health by addressing the above two subjects.

Research shows that people can experience significant distress and concerns for their safety as a result of cyber-sexual harassment, sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual assault, stalking, and trafficking for sexual exploitation10. Ontario’s It’s Never Okay: An Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment also recognizes this important correlation, noting that “health consequences of sexual assault extend to mental health consequences [which] can be severe and long-term, including anxiety and panic attacks, eating disorders, substance abuse, depression and other mental health problems.

For those from marginalized communities, the experience of sexual violence may further exasperate existing concerns connected to social exclusion, mental health and wellness.
There is no disputing that sexual violence has profound impacts on the lives of survivors – however, those who have been victimized also show great resilience, self-awareness and strength. Moreover, appropriate supports and a respectful recognition of survivors’ experiences can make a huge difference in their recovery.

Education can have a significant role in this. It can support survivors of violence to name their experiences and normalize their reactions to violence, thus contributing to their wellness. Education on sexual violence, healthy relationships and consent can also help survivors realize that supportive resources exist, and connect them with counselling or health services in their local communities.

What now?

The updated curriculum provided improved information, skills, and strategies needed to keep our children and youth healthy and safe. From affirming gender diverse youth to recognizing signs of cyber abuse, it is essential that education in Ontario reflects the realities of the 21st century.

But as of September, Ontario students will receive one of the most outdated curriculums in Canada compared to other provinces and territories — one which no longer includes these important subjects.

Here’s what you can do now:

  • Share the information here with others you know
  • Contact your MPP to let them know that you wish to see the 2015 sex-ed curriculum maintained. Go to: https://wehaveyourbackontario.org/eaction/ now!
  • Continue believing survivors of sexual violence in your communities. Help connect survivors and those that care about them to sexual violence supports near you.

___________________________________________________________________
The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) includes 29 sexual assault centres serving survivor-victims of sexual violence across Ontario. Sexual assault centres deliver free and confidential crisis, advocacy and ongoing support to survivors of sexual violence throughout all of Ontario. If you or someone you know has been affected by violence and are seeking support, please go to http://www.sexualassaultsupport.ca/support.

1 Juristat Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Sexual Offenses in Canada. 2004: 1
2 Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006, Statistics Canada
3 Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2012, as cited in An Exploratory Study Of Women’s Safety At The University Of Toronto Mississauga: A Gender-Based Analysis by Paula DeCoito Ph.D. Social Planning Council of Peel. July 2013, 19.
4 Wolfe and Chiodo, CAMH, 2008, p. 3.
5 Violence against Women Learning Network, Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children, Western University. May 2012. Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document: 25.
6 Ahrens, C.E and Erendira Aldana. The Ties That Bind: Understanding the Impact of Sexual Assault Disclosure on Survivors’ Relationships with Friends, Family, and Partners. In Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 13:226–243, 2012.
7 The acronym ‘LGBTQI2S’ is used here to reference all people with diverse gender identities and experiences of attraction (sexual orientation), including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, Two Spirit, intersex, queer or questioning.
8 Everett, B. (2015). Sexual orientation identity change and depressive symptoms: a longitudinal analysis. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 56(1), 37-58. doi:10.1177/0022146514568349
9 Wolfe and Chiodo, CAMH, 2008, p. 3.
10 Violence against Women Learning Network, Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children, Western University. May 2012. Overcoming Barriers and Enhancing Supportive Responses: The Research on Sexual Violence Against Women A Resource Document: 18.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s