There’s a disturbing trend happening of late and I’m not sure if it’s birthed out of ignorance or fear, but either way, it’s time to challenge the dialogue.

I’ve seen the misuse of questions about ‘Safe Schools’ happen during Q & A at the Pornography and Harms to Children and Young People Symposium. I’ve had to respond to concerns about ‘Safe Schools’ when promoting my Not for Kids! children’s book. I’ve been asked my opinion about the links between sexualisation and Relationships and Sexuality Education. I’ve seen ‘Safe Schools’ thrown into the mix in a few responses to the Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet Senate Enquiry. And most recently, when Collective Shout wrote an article about the call for an Inquiry into the Sexualisation of Children in South Australia, their Facebook post was overtaken with cries for the Inquiry to also address children being sexualised through Safe Schools resources. There’s one major flaw with this line of attack – sexualisation is not the same discussion as Safe Schools. Full Stop. And here’s why.

By going to the definition originally outlined by the American Psychological Association (APA) in the 2007 Sexualisation of Girls report, we can learn very clearly what sexualisation is. Taking directly from the report:

Sexualisation occurs when:

  • a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behaviour, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
  • a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  • sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.

It goes on to say that anyone (girls, boys, men, women) can be sexualised. But when children are imbued with adult sexuality, it is often imposed upon them rather than chosen by them. Self-motivated sexual exploration, on the other hand, is not sexualisation by our definition, nor is age-appropriate exposure to information about sexuality.

Added for clarification 27.5.16: Safe Schools and the associated resources were established to reduce homophobic and transphobic behaviour and create inclusive school environments through an anti-bullying approach. Resources were independently reviewed and some changes implemented. Opposers of the resources claim the ideological underpinnings of the program are driven by marxism; it uses contested queer theory and subjects young people to unsuitable role plays; teaches children as young as 7 about transgender experiences; and does not give parents a say in its delivery. Their concerns are often shouted down with name calling.

Whilst I’m sure that opposers of Safe Schools would argue that point number 4 in the definition of ‘sexualisation’ does indeed align with their concerns, not once does the APA mention providing information about sexually diverse people as being a cause of sexualisation. This is because the whole premise of the term ‘sexualisation’ has NOTHING to do with same-sex attracted or gender diverse people; nor does balanced and age-appropriate Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) ‘sexualise’ children. Instead, ‘sexualisation’ has EVERYTHING to do with sexualising (in particular girls & children) through advertising, media, magazines, cartoons and animations, sports media, video & computer games, and Internet pornography.

I have already written about Safe Schools and the reservations I have in detail, using a respectful, informed and researched approach. People’s angst about Safe Schools is something that is beyond my capacity to curb; I’m only interested in getting on with the job of doing what I do best – providing a grounded, balanced and holistic approach to Relationships and Sexuality Education that counteracts porn culture’s messages. Youth Wellbeing Project brings understanding to sexually diverse people and uses inclusive language, without making it the whole focus. A school with a solid anti-bullying policy could deliver our IQ programs and know that they have upheld the safety and wellbeing of all students, regardless of who they are attracted to and who they identify as; doing so with a strong focus on protective behaviours and deconstructing the detrimental messages portrayed in pornography (the mass cause of children and young people being sexualised).

But as for equating age-appropriate RSE with the ‘sexualisation’ of children; or seeking to equate ‘Safe Schools’ with the very real and urgent concern of ‘sexualisation’ through modern culture and the proliferation of pornography – please stop. Remember that any hasty or ill informed thing you say about Safe Schools has the potential to significantly impact the mental health and wellbeing of a young person who identifies as same-sex attracted or sexually diverse. And a balanced approach to Relationships and Sexuality education is the very thing we need in schools, given the alternative is for young people to receive their sex ed from porn. Yes, it’s important to be informed about the relationships and sexuality materials your child’s school is using – just as important as it is for you to educate your child before culture does.

Get informed. Get equipped. And get up to speed with the public health crisis that free and easy access to Internet pornography has created through sexualising our children and young people. And please, for the benefit of actually addressing the issue at hand, stop misusing the word ‘sexualisation’. There are endless other words that have been used to express people’s angst over ‘Safe Schools’ – by definition, ‘sexualisation’ shouldn’t be one of them.

THANK YOU to everyone who has been sharing these blog posts and for all your great feedback.  If you have a topic you would like me to blog about, send an email me or ASK ME through Vidoyen. If you would like to enquire about my availability and professional speaking fees to present at your school, in-service, conference, community, youth or church event, enquire via email.  If you are looking for sexuality education support, find us at Youth Wellbeing Project and sign up to receive our newsletter.

Liz Walker

About Liz Walker

An accredited sexuality educator, speaker, author, Liz Walker is dedicated to culture-shifting initiatives that respond to pornography harms on children & young people.