Children as young as five should be taught about the dangers of sexual abuse and parents should be given help to spot the warning signs, a new report has recommended
Labour frontbencher Sarah Champion said child abuse was “our nation’s dirty little secret” as she launched an action plan, following work with leading charities and experts.
The plan called for the Government to make age-appropriate “resilience and relationships education” compulsory from Key Stage 1, covering children from five to seven, and demanded an overhaul of the way pupils are taught about the internet in order to make youngsters more aware of the online dangers.
The Dare2Care report also calls for a public health campaign about the spotting the signs of abuse and training on abuse for all frontline professionals working with children.
Shadow women and equalities minister Ms Champion said society was “more comfortable to turn a blind eye” than to consider what might be happening to youngsters.
The internet had made it easier for paedophiles to target children and also led to cyber-bullying, sexting and grooming, she warned.
In the foreword to the report Ms Champion also claimed that young people are “much more tolerant of relationship violence than previous generations were”, blaming the influence of online pornography and the lack of compulsory education.
“It is natural for children to be curious about sex, but without good statutory education, children do their own research through online pornography.
“Children are regarding porn as a lesson in how to have sex, without the context or the understanding to view it as a fantasy, promoted by an industry that normalises violence against women and girls.”
The report highlighted previous research indicating that more than 57,000 children have been identified as needing protection from abuse in the UK and suggesting that one in 20 youngsters will experience child sexual abuse.
At a launch event in Westminster, Ms Champion will be joined by women whose lives have been directly affected by abuse, including Lorin LaFave, whose 14-old-son Breck Bednar from Caterham, Surrey, was murdered by a 19-year-old who had groomed him online.
She backed the call for compulsory education on the issue: “By learning these important safety lessons in school, every child will have the opportunity to make the right choices for themselves on the risks that they will surely face throughout their lives.
“This plan is a long term answer to protecting our children as well as creating better citizens who understand and strive to build healthy relationships for life.”
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “All children are at risk of sexual abuse, whether they’re on the internet, in the playground, or in their own bedroom. Much, much more must be done to prevent this vile crime.
“Compulsory lessons on sex education and healthy relationships from an early age are essential to help children understand consent and respect.”
Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “Internet access opens up a whole new world of opportunities for children and young people’s education and development, but it has many risks as well as benefits.
“In the worst cases it can present a serious threat to their safety. Some young people we work with tell us that contacts they meet online have gone on to exploit them for sex and coerced them to share inappropriate sexual images.
“The internet also provides access to pornography which is reshaping young people’s views of what constitutes a safe and healthy relationship. This too can put them at risk of abuse or exploitation, not only from online predators, but also from classmates and other young people their own age.
“This important report highlights the urgent need for age appropriate sex and relationship education in every school. Classes should be compulsory and cover both online and offline relationships to combat grooming, exploitation and violence. Given that many victims of sexual offences are aged 16 and 17 it’s vital that older teenagers in further education are able to learn about how to stay safe from sexual abuse as well.”