Oliver Ronaldson & Molly Lempriere
The Union of Brunel Students' Equality & Diversity Chair Olive Barton, is founding a sexual health charity. The ‘Sexual Wellbeing Foundation’ aims to bridge the gap between the sexual education provided in schools and the level necessary in the 21st century. For example, The World Health Organisation found that half of the UK’s fourteen year olds believe that rape is acceptable in certain circumstances. This sort of mis-information, perpetuated without correction, can be damaging to anyone's sexual relationships.
“Education on sexual well-being at the moment is so limited and focused far too much on STDs or pregnancy” Olive told Le Nurb. “I just kept thinking: but what if young people don’t know what a healthy relationship is? What makes for a solid relationship? What constitutes domestic violence or assault?… Two women die every week as a result of domestic violence. We’re in the middle of an epidemic that is being completely ignored by the government.”
While there are other charities who combat this, their resources are spread incredibly thin. “Charities such as Refuge and Women’s Aid are at breaking point – they do not have the facilities to cope with the number of cases of sexual assault and domestic violence because it has in many cases become a norm rather than an outlier.” While the problem can be seen as being only verbal, Olive told us how much of a negative impact this can have on peoples lives; “high profile cases being treated with such indignity and disrespect that a woman is shamed into hiding for filing a rape case against a footballer.”
The charity, Olive says, was started up after attending the Trust Women Conference in Bishopsgate. “It’s the kind of event where Lawyers, NGO’s and individuals who share ideas and innovations offer support, guidance and a lot of the time funding. I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to the event and spent the two days trying to network. It was whilst trying to network that I mentioned an idea I had to start a charity to another delegate. She was incredibly supportive and I brainstormed the whole thing over the course of the event!
“The conference had really enforced my understanding of the need for a better approach to sexual health and sexual well-being.” From this, the charity was born.
But what exactly does Olive intend to do? “I started thinking about a charity that would teach volunteers how to give presentations on sexual wellbeing and the major components of a healthy relationship. For example, teaching what a healthy relationship is, signs of abusive or malicious behaviour and also how to tackle sexual harassment from strangers, something that is today increasingly more common”. Olive intends to tackle many aspects that are often seen to be missing from the current sexual education programs, as many fear that “the next generation has a very distorted view of a healthy relationship and this could have alarming consequences if it isn’t dealt with immediately.”
Olive has already set the ball firmly rolling organising the set up and starting the hard work of the set up of the charity. Working over Christmas to establish these key aims, Olive has stressed that following each presentation she wants there to be “the signing of a pledge that the school, organisation or society supports better education on sexual wellbeing and calling for the government to do more to educate not just on sexual health but also sexual wellbeing”. This goes hand in hand with the key role of the charity's website, in construction now by student George Bowden, which will not only house the webinars through which the presentations will largely be made but also ‘allow volunteers to share photos and reviews of past events, providing advice and guidance to those looking to volunteer themselves.” The largely online base of the charity will also allow them to save on money for travel, reach farther and allow the charity to be nearly self-sufficient.
Such information being readily available could make a massive difference to the lives of many teenagers around the country. Sexual harassment at various levels persists in places from clubs to classrooms, and later on in boardrooms. Few teenagers, male or female, make it through their youth without it affecting them in a variety of ways. Olive explained “Having witnessed first-hand the distress and misery sexual harassment causes as well as more serious crimes such as rape and assault can cause to an individual (men as well I must stress). I am keen to be a part of the solution”. Like many she views education as our key weapon in the fight against much of the sexual harassment which has become commonplace.
Many would question why aspects such as sexual harassment haven't been included in sex education previously. There is a definite gap between the tools given in schools and the tools needed to understand sexual relationships in the real world. Even the Government have seen this, as a bill was passed through the house of commons on increasing the amount of sexual health teaching in schools, but was dismissed by the House of Lords. “It still angers me that this was dismissed without being, I believe, thoroughly considered. Sexism needs to be put on the school curriculum. Better still, equality and respecting individuality need be taught in schools”. This is exactly what The Sexual Wellbeing Foundation will be doing.
For those who want to get involved, Olive has said “The aim of the charity is for it to be as little or as much as you like. The training will be done via webinars over two nights and other than a CRB check, volunteers are free to use the information and documents provided to do as many presentations as they want.” The website launches on the February 1. If interested, keep an eye out for links to the organisation across campus! Olive says “Le Nurb will be provided with links to the website so that anyone interested is able to sign up! I must stress that anyone can be involved. This is an opportunity for everyone!”