An open letter to the Minister for Education, Norma Foley, on the lack of adequate education around consent in secondary schools across Ireland.
The importance of comprehensive and detailed education on consent starting from first year in secondary school cannot be understated.
Rape culture and sexual assault are still very prominent across all levels and ages of Irish society, as was demonstrated by the details released of the legal case involving Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy, and Rory Harrison in 2018.
The derogatory way these men talked about women in their private Whatsapp messages is absolutely abhorrent and makes me feel physically ill, as I’m sure it made you feel as well.
It would be an amazing thing if these people were simply outliers, however, as someone who went to an all-boys school can tell you, they are not. They are the norm.
On a more personal level; I cannot think of one woman I know who has not been a victim of sexual assault. Every single woman I know has been sexually assaulted at some point in her life. Every. Single. One.
Minister, I have two younger sisters, aged 16 and 10. The culture around consent and sexual assault in Ireland disgusts me. It should you too.
Considering the lack of education in secondary schools with regard to consent, I don’t think we should be surprised at the prominence of rape culture or the normalisation of sexual assault in our society.
It’s an unfortunate, but inevitable, consequence of a lack of education.
A small paragraph at the end of the sexual health chapter in our SPHE books wistfully mentioning that sex without consent is rape is simply not enough and has never been enough.
The future generation needs to learn that groping, catcalling, forcibly kissing, etc, is sexual assault and all have psychological impacts on the victims.
Future generations also need to be made aware that rape isn’t confined to being dragged down an alleyway.
It’s also someone taking advantage of you when you’re too drunk to say no, waking up to someone having sex with you, slyly removing a condom, being pressured or emotionally manipulated into having sex with someone after you explicitly said you didn’t want to and on, and on, and on.
None of the men in these situations are under the impression that they did anything wrong.
Education about consent will solve these “grey areas”. It will teach everyone that you either have consent or you don’t.
If this could prevent the sexual assault or rape of even one woman in our country, it will be extremely worthwhile.
As the legendary civil rights activist Angela Davis once said: “We have to talk about liberating minds as well as society”.
With this in mind, Minister Foley, can you please commit to introducing this education across all secondary schools in Ireland, starting in first year? I look forward to hearing your response.