Sally Hope wants a revolution in the way young people learn about sexual relationships. It starts with parents and youthworkers
As Christians it might be tempting to respond to the allegations against Russell Brand with a smug “I told you so.” To point him out to our teenagers as an example of where promiscuity leads, warning them about the dangers of hedonism and urging them to stick to traditional “Christian” sexual ethics instead.
I believe that would be a mistake. We only need to look to recent scandals within Christianity concerning high profile leaaders that had a sexual element to see that we’re not doing any better ourselves; the rates of sexual abuse and violence against women aren’t any lower within the Church than outside of it. Simply telling teenagers to abstain isn’t enough.
Abusive and unhealthy relationships happen at similar rates in every culture and every religion, regardless of their views on sexual ethics. Those unhealthy relationships start young: 25% of girls aged 13-17 report that they have experienced violence in their romantic relationships. Safelives (a domestic abuse charity) found that half of all young people did not feel that the sex and relationships education they had received in school had equipped them with a proper understanding of toxic and healthy relationships. As Christians we have the answer, and it’s not abstinence, it’s Jesus. It’s time we stepped up and filled that gap in our children’s education, because make no mistake, if we don’t educate our children about romantic relationships, the porn industry will: 22% of boys aged 13-17 say they have looked to porn for sex education.
Jesus’ focus in teaching about relationships was never specifically on sex, it was always on love. If we understand what love looks like and crucially what it does not look like then we will be better equipped to relate to one another in healthy ways, whether our relationships are sexual or non-sexual, romantic or platonic. This is the lesson we need to teach our young people, how to treat our partners as Jesus would, rather than in ways that reflect our sinful tendencies to try to exert power and control over each other. Notions such as respect and consent flow from this.
I am tired of our media being dominated by stories of sexual and domestic abuse, I’m especially tired of abuse within the church. We’re supposed to be a light to the world, not an echo of it. The statistics around violence against women have not changed in 40 years, it is not getting any better, and it won’t until we educate the next generation to love each other better than we have done. So, whilst I usually focus on the aftermath of Domestic Abuse by equipping churches to run survivor programmes for Christian Women, I have taken a short detour to focus on prevention. I have created a resource for youth workers to encourage and facilitate talking to young people about healthy relationships. The resource provides Bible studies around healthy relationships, and handouts explaining which behaviours the Bible tells us feature in a healthy relationship and which feature in an unhealthy relationship. I also provide several examples of these behaviours being played out so that teenagers can learn to identify in very practical terms what is acceptable and not acceptable in a relationship. In addition I have included craft activities, role play exercises, and games that can be played with young people to aid learning.
I’ve uploaded the resource to my website and it can be accessed there completely free of charge. I would encourage anyone who works with young people to download it and make full use of it. The resource is ideally aimed at young people in school years 10-13 (or aged 14-18) but it could be adapted for work with older students or slightly younger children. Over the next few months I aim to produce similar resources for Sunday Schools to use with young primary school children and for adults to use in marriage preparation classes. You can download all these resources, as well as factsheets about Domestic Abuse, free of charge from my website. https://alwayshopeful.org.uk/resources/.
Violence against women is not just a “hot topic” or a “trendy issue” at the moment, it is not something that should be left to “woke feminists” to care about. It is in the news so much because it is at epidemic levels. A quarter of women within the church are experiencing abuse in their current relationship. If you are a youth leader, a quarter of the girls in your group will grow up to be abused by their partner, 20% of them will be raped or sexually assaulted and nearly all of them will be harassed. We owe it to our daughters, and our sons, to make this issue a priority, both by supporting survivors through programmes such as Always Hopeful and by educating our young people.
[sources: https://safelives.org.uk/press-release-RSE-Report; https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-05/missing-the-mark-teenage-relationship-abuse-report.pdf; https://reducingtherisk.org.uk/abuse-in-teenage-relationships/#:~:text=Research%20from%20the%20University%20of,with%20an%20obje