There is still a lot to be done to prevent sexual violence against children by providing comprehensive sexuality education, says Dutch National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children, Corinne Dettmeijer, in her report Effective prevention. Comprehensive sexuality education at school is an important means of combating sexual violence, but schools cannot currently choose a method proven to prevent victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse.
In primary and secondary education, Dutch schools are obligated to pay attention to sexuality and sexual diversity in order to strengthen the sexual assertiveness of young people. Schools are free to choose how they do so. The National Rapporteur emphasizes that schools can best choose a teaching method that is proven to be effective in preventing sexual violence. Dettmeijer: ‘A method that has no effect means a waste of time, money and effort. Additionally, an intervention of which the effects are unknown may work counterproductively, which may be harmful.’ But choosing an effective intervention is not yet possible: there aren’t any such interventions.
More research is needed
The best alternative methods schools can currently apply are those that are likely to work on the basis of sound scientific theory. In order to determine whether these methods prevent sexual violence, more research needs to be done on their effectiveness; the results should be readily available for schools. The rapporteur encourages the minister and state secretary for Education, Culture and Science and the minister of Health, Welfare and Sport to work towards the development of and research into effective interventions.
When developing effective methods, it is important to specifically focus on several vulnerable groups. Sixteen and seventeen year olds run a greater risk of becoming both victims or perpetrators of sexual violence than do younger children. Even though schools that teach sixteen and seventeen year olds are not obligated to pay attention to sexuality at school, these students would nonetheless benefit from effective sexuality education. Children with mental or physical disabilities also have a greater chance of being victims of sexual violence than children without any such limitation. As such, it is all the more important for schools offering special education to have access to an effective method to protect the sexual integrity of their students.
The importance of prevention
One in three girls and one in five boys experiences a form of sexual violence before the age of 18. The effects can continue far into adulthood, which not only causes damage to victims and their surroundings, but also costs society money. Rapporteur Corinne Dettmeijer: ‘We are horrified by stories about sexual abuse. For example when we hear about child abuse in sports. This is why we should not only focus our attention on victims and perpetrators after the abuse has taken place, but we also have to look at how this harm can be prevented. Education plays an important role in this.’