A sex education expert has prompted an angry backlash from family campaigners, after she suggested that child abuse could be prevented if very young children “high-fived” their grandparents rather than kissing them.
Co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum, Lucy Emmerson, said that children needed to learn at “age zero” that their bodies are their own. Ms Emmerson said that her recommendations could protect children from future sexual exploitation.
Ms Emmerson added that parents could “blur the boundaries” of acceptable behaviour if they coerced young children into kissing relatives such as their grandmother or elderly aunt or uncle.
Family campaigners have reacted angrily to Ms Emmerson’s comments, however – saying children are aware of the difference between having to kiss an elderly aunt or uncle or their grandmother and unwanted sexual advances from others.
Director of the Family Education Trust, Norman Wells, said:
“Even if the distinction is lost on the Sex Education Forum, children and young people are able to recognise that there is all the difference in the world between self-consciously – and perhaps on occasion reluctantly – kissing an uncle or aunt on the cheek on the one hand and accepting unwanted sexual advances on the other.”
Ms Emmerson was discussing the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles online when she made her comments.
Many children who are sexually exploited are groomed online or using social media after an initial encounter with someone who goes on to exploit them sexually.
Recently, men jailed for the sexual exploitation of underage girls in towns in the north of England met their victims socially and then launched a campaign of grooming using electronic media. The girls were in some cases showered with attention and presents before being coerced into sexual activity and passed round groups of men.
Several cases of recent sex exploitation have also focused on teachers beginning sexual relationships with minors at schools where they work.
The most notorious sexual predator in recent years has turned out to be BBC disc jockey and presenter Jimmy Savile, who hid behind a mask of respectability to gain access to children’s TV, hospitals and children’s homes, where he sexually abused vulnerable young adults and children.
In comments online Ms Emmerson said, however, that parents instinctively comply with social rituals in which children may be encouraged to kiss relatives or friends – and even strangers:
"Much is learnt by young children from everyday experiences about whether or not their opinion is valued and if they have any control over physical contact with others.
"I believe learning about consent starts from age zero.”
She added that children being allowed to offer relatives a high-five, blow a kiss or hug relatives and family friends rather than kissing them put children in control of the situation.
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