One would surely have to be a monster to take exception to the government measure suggesting that children should be compulsorily taught in schools that domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong.
So why do I have this sense of unease about the whole thing? Firstly, I just can't get with the idea that my seven-year-old daughter should be taught about sexual assault. She's too young. And does a five-year-old really need to be "taught" that violence is wrong? If she (or he) sees one parent hit the other, wouldn't the natural reaction be revulsion and fear, even if his teacher hadn't previously informed him or her that it was the proper response to a social evil?
Likewise for the older children. Domestic violence is so self-evidently improper that moral lectures to a 15-year-old on the subject are superfluous. If some stupid thug thinks that slapping his girlfriend is acceptable, than I doubt that the imprecations of his teacher is going to make much difference.
Beyond these largely practical points, my unease stretches into the area of what I think of "moral bullying." What are schools for? They are about teaching children how to think, and most importantly, to think for themselves. To deliver moral lectures reeks of distasteful Victorian nannying.
The most powerful argument in favour of this programme would be that there are clearly people who believe "a bit of a slap" is somehow a routine and justifiable method of settling an argument. This is obviously unacceptable, as is the idea that sexual assault is just a bit of "rough sex", but I doubt that a teacher is going to be able to do much to convince any party that thinks otherwise.
But without in any way diminishing the seriousness of the issue, it may be that a mosquito is being swatted while an elephant runs rampant. The British Crime Survey records that the rate of domestic violence is about 0.4 per cent in the female population as a whole. Victimisation from violence among adult women generally is 2.1 per cent. Which is nasty and without any possible justification.
However, the chance of being a victim of violence for a 16-24 year old male is far higher – an extraordinary 13.2 per cent. As a young man you have a terrifying one in eight chance of being a victim of violent assault in a given year, as opposed to the less than one in 200 chance a woman suffers from being the victim of domestic assault.
Well those young lads put themselves in the position didn't they? They were asking for it, weren't they? Their body language was provocative, wasn't it? Do those arguments sound familiar at all? I would not wish – dare? – to argue against these lessons to inform children that domestic violence and sexual assault are bad things.
But perhaps it might be worthwhile during the "Why It Is Bad for People to Hurt One Another" double period, to deliver a few doubtless ineffectual words about the continuing and disgraceful casualisation and normalisation of violence among and towards young men – which arguably is a phenomenon that overflows seamlessly and poisonously into male/female relationships.
The violence of men against men is not necessarily a more serious problem than the violence of men against women. But it is a far bigger one. If this project of men learning not to hit or assault women is to be addressed in our schools, then it is surely worth wasting an equal amount of time rehearsing the injunction that men should not hit other men either.Reuse content