'Teach primary school pupils how to avoid sex abuse'

By Judith Burns
Education reporter

Image caption,
Primary age children need education on consent and who to tell if they are sexually abused, say the researchers

Primary school-aged children in the UK need more education on how to avoid sexual abuse, says a leading academic.

Children who have been on abuse prevention programmes are more likely to tell an adult if they have been abused, suggests a global study.

The researchers looked at data on some 6,000 children in seven countries.

The data "supports the need to inform and protect children", said lead author Dr Kerryann Walsh, of Queensland University of Technology.

Dr Walsh was speaking ahead of publication of the review by the global independent research network Cochrane.

It focused on data from 24 trials where a total of 5,802 largely primary school-aged children took part in school-based prevention programmes.

These trials took place in the United States, Canada, China, Germany, Spain, Taiwan and Turkey and were judged to be the most scientifically robust ever conducted in the field.

Some took place recently, though others dated from the 1980s.

The review says that worldwide an estimated one in 10 girls and one in 20 boys experienced some form of sexual abuse in childhood.

Who to tell

The schools focused on consent with education on body ownership and "private parts", when it is acceptable to touch, what "secrets" are acceptable, as well as how to avoid dangerous situations and who children should tell if they have been abused or are afraid.

They used a variety of methods including films, plays, songs, puppets, books and games.

The data suggests the programmes successfully boosted children's awareness and knowledge of sexual abuse and they were likely to remember what they were taught six months later.

Children who had taken part were more than three times more likely to disclose sexual abuse than those who had not.

The researchers warn the figures are imprecise, but they suggest some four in 1,000 children who had not taken part were likely to report abuse, rising to some 14 in 1,000 among children who had taken part.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Last month the government in England announced children would be taught about sexual consent from the age of 11

In some of the trials researchers cross-referenced the disclosure figures with police and social service records.

A few trials included "simulated abuse scenarios" where children were asked to leave the school with someone they did not know.

These found children who had participated in anti-abuse programmes were less likely to agree.

The researchers warned this may not be replicated in real life.

"Tests cannot mimic real abuse situations very well," said Dr Walsh.

'Substantial effect'

However, Cochrane's editor-in-chief, Dr David Tovey, said the data showed the programmes were effective overall.

"If we were talking about a drug and had odds ratios of this level it would be considered a very substantial effect."

No UK trials were included as none met the stringent criteria required in terms of methodology and data.

However, the researchers said there was no reason to believe UK children would be "terribly different from those in the studies".

Dr Walsh said similar programmes already exist "in patches in the UK", but the lack of an audit meant they did not know "what is being offered out there".

She said any new programmes should be robustly evaluated and focused on seven to 12-year-olds, the age group most vulnerable to abuse.

"If you are going to do it - you should begin in these risk years."

Last month England's education secretary, Nicky Morgan, announced that all children from the age of 11 would be taught about sexual consent.

The NSPCC has called for the next government to make sex and relationship education a statutory right for every child and young person.

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.