Letter: Age of consent

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Baroness Young justifies her support for a discriminatory age of consent for homosexuals with the argument that young men need protection against abuse ("Lords reject lower age of gay consent", 14 April). Why, then, does she refuse to support the most obvious and effective safeguard against sexual exploitation - earlier, better-quality sex education in schools?

Evidence from other countries suggests that the best protection against abusive relationships is educating and empowering young people to stand up for their sexual rights, which include both the right to say "yes" to sex and the right to say "no". Teenagers who have the knowledge, skills and confidence to control their own bodies are much more likely to resist unwanted sexual advances and to report abuse if it occurs.

Current sex education is too vague and euphemistic, focusing on the biological facts of reproduction and rarely discussing sex, let alone sexual rights or sex abuse. Few pupils receive assertiveness training in how to deal with sex pests or in what to do if they are molested. They need to be taught the ability and assuredness to reject and report undesired sexual overtures.

Baroness Young and her supporters ignore the fact that adults who sexually exploit teenagers often get away with it because the victims feel guilty about sex and are therefore reluctant to complain. This reluctance is reinforced by strait-laced cultural attitudes, which still tend to regard sex as something sordid that should be kept hidden and private. These attitudes are a godsend to abusers, who rely on guilt and secrecy to carry out their molestation undetected.

If Lady Young is serious about the protection of youth, she should call on the Government to amend the age of consent Bill to require all schools to provide more detailed and comprehensive sex education.



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