Ireland’s sex education system is inadequate

Emma Nevin

The Discord leak should have rattled every man and woman in this country. This problem has evolved from just a few pictures being shared in the lads group chat to a systematic, planned attack on Irish women. 

Linda Hayden, co-founder of the Victims Alliance said “we believe that Irish women were targeted because the perpetrators know there is no law against sharing intimate images without consent.”

This should make us all so disappointed. There was nothing in place to protect Irish women from being harmed in this way.

It is so frustrating that the Government were not pro-active about this years ago but thankfully, this scandal was met with swift reaction from Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, who introduced a Bill which will make the sharing of someone’s images without their consent a crime, whether there was intent to cause harm or not.

This is a really positive step in the journey of protecting Irish women, but it must be followed by comprehensive reform to the current sex education available in our secondary school curriculum.

Education is the only long term solution to this. And I don’t mean just telling youngsters “don’t take nudes” because that obviously will not work and is also highly contradictory. when the HSE is encouraging people to engage in “virtual sex” during Covid-19.

The internet isn’t going away anytime soon, and as long as the internet exists, people will engage in virtual sex. We’ve seen countless times that telling people abstention is the only way to prevent pregnancy and STD’s does not work.

In the same way our sex education curriculum needs to encourage safe sex instead of preaching abstention as the only solution, consent and safe sex in the digital context needs to be emphasised. People are going to engage in these activities no matter what.

How consent is covered in Irish sex education is abysmal. When I was in school, the only topic of consent was through a video about tea and I don’t recall anything about image based consent. It was totally inadequate.

Sex Ed was only taught to me in fifth and sixth year, and even then it was only an eight week long programme. This absolutely needs to be taught on a regular basis from first year.

Colleges including DCU have been proactive and have run “consent workshops” in the past and educated students. Ireland’s youth shouldn’t have to wait until university for these topics to be discussed with them.

It needs to be ingrained into young people’s heads from the word go that if someone shares an image with you, you need to have their consent to share that image with anyone else.

This cannot happen again. The Department of Education needs to act swiftly in the same way the Department of Justice has.

Education needs to be part of the solution.

Emma Nevin

Image Credit: Taylor Wilcoxon