Forum: Relook sexuality education in schools

Nominated MP Yip Pin Xiu recently spoke in Parliament about the worrying trend of sexual violence on campus (Call for code to deal with campus sexual violence, Feb 28). I found it inspiring to hear a young politician speak up about these issues and call for action.

By my personal count, there have been 15 separate incidents of campus sexual violence reported in the news this year alone - a disconcerting number.

To me, this suggests that preventive measures such as those implemented by universities last year - including additional closed-circuit television cameras, new restroom locks and more security officers - are inadequate in stopping these incidents.

Ms Yip rightly pointed out, too, that the current institutional measures focus on punitive guidelines for perpetrators and rehabilitation for survivors. These measures are important (some argue that penalties can be effective deterrents), but also akin to putting a plaster on a bullet wound. We are unlikely to see definitive change until we tackle the root of the issue. Why should we treat the symptoms when we could be treating the disease itself?

I firmly believe that our lack of a comprehensive and relevant sexuality education syllabus is a large contributing factor to the prevalence of sexual violence among young people. The only sexuality education lesson I ever received in junior college was a lecture in which we were shown pictures of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to deter us from having pre-marital sex. Yet, there was little to no mention of important concepts like consent and how to establish boundaries.

It is time for us to relook the priorities of sexuality education in schools. If our students are not walked through the process of communicating and respecting boundaries, how do we ensure that our schools and institutions are safe spaces?

I believe that cultivating open conversations about consent and boundaries from a far younger age in school, rather than a top-down approach to sexuality education, would be far more effective in preventing future incidents.

Preaching abstinence and lecturing students about STIs are simply not enough to meaningfully impart values, when we know that sexual violence is a very real and very pressing issue.

Tanya Ragupathi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2020, with the headline 'Relook sexuality education in schools'. Subscribe