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Sexual Health Education At Australian Schools

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A study through the Australian Communications and Media Authority has revealed that children as young as 11 report receiving or sending explicit images, shocking I know but it’s the current consequences of children growing up in a society that is completely immersed in smartphone technology. Due to this, it is essential that we adapt our teaching strategies to ensure that our children have knowledge of the weight that a misuse of social media and online platforms can cause. This also means that sexual health education taught in schools must also adapt to the growing use of sexting among other things.

School kids as young as 12 may be taught how to safely send “sexy snaps” via texts and social media through an online education tool being recommended for use in classrooms. The video is hosted by an Australian website called Rose, describing itself as ‘a unique online space where young women can connect with the best digital resources out there, helping them to navigate life’s tricky situations’, which i believe is a great and much needed resource. The safe sexting advice encourages young women to crop out anything that easily identifies the person taking the picture, stay sober, not share other peoples images, and to seek help if you’re worried about a picture. The Rosie video may seem too far and too confrontational for young children, but the sad reality is that a study from RMIT and Monash Universities showed that 1 in 3 Australians aged 16-19 have been targeted by image-based abuse. So there’s obviously a need to break the silence on this ‘taboo’ topic.

Allyson Oliver-Perham, a communication expert and co-founder of the Rosie website has said that pretending kids aren’t exposed to this material is ‘naive’. It is of utter importance that this naivety is broken down. We live in 2018, where society is becoming so much more accepting of previously taboo topics and the way we live is continually developing, so why doesn’t society and more importantly parents accept that the younger generations are using sexting as a way to explore their sexuality. So why don’t we give them the necessary resources to stay as safe as possible doing so? A program which education children of sexting safely is not in any way encouraging this behaviour, but is acting as a harm minimisation technique. Parents need to understand the power of these devices and the basics of speed and reach when it comes to sexualised and personal images. We know young people are engaging in this behaviour, facts cannot be ignored. By having these discussions, young people may be less likely to take risks when doing so and may be more likely to discuss any concerns they have with a trusted adult.

The introduction of this idea has incurred a lot of criticism as people are regarding it as too confrontational for primary students. Many people who are against this program often say that it should we up to parents to decide to teach their children these fundamentals, however this is so often left untaught. Parents expect schools to teach children about safe drinking, drug use and ‘real’ sex and other forms of cyberbullying, why do we draw the line at sexting? We generally accept that children need to be taught the basics of sex education; using condoms, etcetera, – in our increasingly digital world why should these ideas not be applied to technology-facilitated sexual activity. Sharing intimate images is a healthy way to express and develop sexuality without the risk of unwanted pregnancy or STDs. Sexting is increasingly a normal part of adolescent sexual development. Sex education within schools needs to start to look beyond the current male-centric focus. The program however has not been endorsed by the Department of Education with the Victorian Education Minister James Merlino suggesting the answer is to simply take away mobile phones from teens. Using this as the answer does teens a huge disservice considering our current fastpass technology society. On top of this, it would be alienating the group that this program is trying to empower.

Valid criticism of this program has been raised regarding how the Rosie video is targeted towards young females rather than all genders. However, it is reality that it’s women who are overwhelmingly pressured to send images, and young women who are targeted by non-consensual image-sharing therefore it is critical to emphasize this program towards women, so they know how to protect themselves. Researches at RMIT and Monash University have completed the first comprehensive study on ‘revenge porn’, and it also for the first time revealed the damaging psychological toll on victims, with those threatened by revenge porn and those whose images had been distributed, the most severely affected by depression and anxiety. However we cannot ignore that men don’t need to be addressed in this program, they do. It’s vital we address men’s behaviour around demanding, sharing and exchanging images safely and respectively, as 39% of female victims were targeted by an intimate partner or ex-partner.

Parents should no longer accept this laissez-faire attitude towards this growing issue. How would you feel if your child participated in sharing explicit images or distributing someone else’s without thinking twice about the damaging consequences. This behaviour is illegal under child pornography laws to create of distribute intimate images of a person ages under 18 years. Obviously this is worst case scenario, but the whole problem can be improved through education. This program isn’t perfect, but it is a step in the right direction in regards to breaking silence on this topic and tackling a complex issue which our generation is facing.

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