Should three-year-olds get sex education to protect them from abuse?

There’s been a call for children as young as three to receive sex education. The idea is to protect them from being molested – specifically, by members of their own families.

“The way we approach it is, if a child is old enough to be abused, it’s old enough to be educated,” sex education expert Lynnette Smith told a UK Parliament committee earlier this week. “So at nursery, it’s exactly the time.”

Law professor Dr Fiona Vera-Gray backed her up, saying that some parents were going to be sexually abusing their children.

“So we need to start talking to the kids as soon as we can when they’re very young,” she said, “to give them the spaces to start talking about what they may be experiencing outside of school.”

When a news story reporting their comments was published online, hundreds of people responded. Many were parents outraged at the idea.

“If anyone provides sex ed for my little lamb at only three years old I will go mental,” declared one commentator.

“Why can’t we just allow children to be children?” asked another. “They will find out what life is really like in due course. Let them have some innocence like I and many others did.”

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Some parents are upset at the idea of young children receiving sex education. Photo via iStock.

"The chances these children will be molested are minimal," posted another. "There is very little genuine abuse in the UK, statistically."

"I worry that these people who think teaching small children about sex is the right thing to do may actually have a problem themselves and get some perverse kick out of talking 'dirty' to little children," added another. "The so-called experts may be more of a problem than the fictitious problem they are creating which isn't actually a problem at all!"

However, there were a few people who supported the idea. "I wish that some information had been given to me about sexual abuse within the family when I was very young," someone posted. "It might have prevented what has haunted me all my life."

Child sexual abuse, sadly, is a problem. It is a problem in the UK and it is a problem in Australia.

The organisation Bravehearts quotes a finding that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused in some way before the age of 18. The average age for first abuse is under 10 for both boys and girls. One study found almost a quarter of female sexual abuse survivors were first abused at age five or younger.

For some children, childhood isn't a time of innocence. They don't get to "just be children".

Childhood isn't always a time of innocence. Photo via iStock. 

I remember being taught stranger danger when I was in Year 1. I remember being shown a terrifying short film of a small child, trapped in a room, cowering, as the shadow of a stranger loomed over them. I spent my childhood in fear of being kidnapped.

Yet for me and everyone I went to school with, we were always at far greater risk of being abused by someone we knew.

If we're quite happy to terrify children into avoiding strangers, why are we so squeamish about educating them about the dangers of sexual abuse?

Sure, let's have a discussion about the most appropriate way to educate young children. But let's stop pretending sexual abuse doesn't happen. Because that's not going to help kids.

How do you think children should be educated about sexual abuse?

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