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Sex lessons 'should be compulsory'

Lessons on sex and relationships should be compulsory in primary and secondary schools to prevent another Rotherham-style abuse scandal, women's rights campaigners have said.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), along with the Everyday Sexism Project launched a petition today calling on the leaders of the main political parties to make sex and relationship education (SRE) a general election pledge.

The campaigners, who also have the backing of Mumsnet, said youngsters were "bombarded" with negative messages about relationships and sex, stemming from an increased exposure to online pornography and "sexualised" elements of popular culture.

It follows the release of a damning report into the sexual exploitation of 1,400 children in Rotherham over a 16-year period between 1997 and 2013. EVAW Coalition director Holly Dustin said: " We cannot sit back and hope to respond better to the next Rotherham - we need to prevent it in the first place."

The petition calls for all schools, both primary and secondary, to teach SRE including sexual consent, gender stereotypes, respectful relationships and the harms of pornography, with increased t eacher training and statutory guidance.

Ms Dustin added: "In the past some parents have been concerned about the possible sharing of explicit material in school with their young children. We are calling for a strong focus on the relationships, respect and equality aspect of SRE when taught in school and, of course, for all SRE to be age appropriate."

The group, backed by the Department for Education, has also published a fact sheet for schools on violence against women and girls, which includes information on different forms of abuse and advice for teachers.

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, said: "From Blurred Lines to lads' mags, online porn to Snapchat, the Lad Bible to Page 3, our culture routinely portrays women as dehumanised and sexualised, and men as sexual aggressors.

"The abuse of girls such as that exposed in Rotherham is in part facilitated by the failure to challenge from an early age the view that men are entitled to women and girls, and by the failure to provide information and support for girls which might enable them to recognise abuse and seek help earlier."

Mumsnet co-founder Justine Roberts said parents who used the site wanted better sex education for their children.

"Mumsnet users are clear: they want comprehensive, compulsory sex and relationships education," she said.

The petition is online at www.change.org/srenow.

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