830 not a reference

Changing language, changing attitudes

By Sarah Hobbs

In a committee room in the Houses of Parliament, a teenage girl stands and states: "When I was younger, my parents advised me not to get raped. They didn't speak to my brothers about the issue, about their own responsibilities in not raping women. Why is this okay? Why don't we discuss issues like this in school?"

A week earlier, in an East London classroom, a group of 15-year olds sat with their hands raised. All wanted to know more about issues such as FGM, forced marriage and domestic violence in school, as a part of the curriculum. Having only heard about FGM 30 minutes earlier, they believed it to be necessary and important for such issues to be discussed in schools and expressed surprise that this was not happening. 

All school pupils learn about sex as a functional process in biology. The human aspect, covered in PSHE or citizenship, is optional and parents can choose to opt their children out on religious and cultural grounds.

However in numerous studies and surveys conducted in the UK over the last ten years, the overwhelming response has been that young people don't feel that the current formal set-up equips them well enough; they want to know more and want to be better informed.[1]

This was mirrored in some of the responses from the Young People's Question Time event in the Houses of Parliament in February:

  • Why aren't issues such as sexual abuse and domestic violence brought up in schools?
  • The younger generation are learning about relationships from soap operas, tweets and Facebook statuses
  • More positive male role models please
  • Why is violence against women much more socially accepted than racism?
  • Let's get beyond statistics please: these are real people we're talking about. More needs to be done
  • Why aren't young people involved more often in policy and making decisions that will effect them?

It is not something schools can afford to ignore - one in three 16-18 year-old girls have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school in the UK.[2]

When t-shirts like this can be produced and sold by well-known high-street brands, the discussion during the event last week turned to how necessary it is to find a new language when thinking and referring to issues surrounding gender-based violence. Honour-based violence is not about honour, race, religion, or saving face - it is violence. It's not honour-killing - it is murder. Female genital mutilation is not a racial, cultural or religious issue - it is child abuse. Not one of these can be excused, in any way – full responsibility must be faced up to by the perpetrator(s).

Help change our language by sharing this blog, and having a look at the work of organisations listed here. Make it your good deed of the day! 


[1] e.g. ICM Poll 2006 (OBRUK website); Refuge, 2008: ‘Starting in Schools’; NSPCC/Uni of Bristol, 2009: ‘Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships’

[2] YouGov poll 2010 (OBRUK website)