Saskatchewan sexual assault centres say they’re banned from schools, but shouldn’t be

13 Oct 2023 | Canada | 118 |
Saskatchewan sexual assault centres say they’re banned from schools, but shouldn’t be

“We have seen a massive uptake in grade 5 and 6 students watching PornHub and watching pornography.”

That comes from the executive director of the Battlefords and Area Sexual Assault Centre, Amber Stewart, who is calling for the Saskatchewan government to allow organizations like theirs to present prevention education in classrooms again.

As part of the government’s Parental Inclusion and Consent Policy, also known as the pronoun policy, that was announced in August, third-party organizations are no longer able to present sexual health material in schools, but Stewart says that shouldn’t include sexual assault centres.

“With very little clarity or direction and very vague language in this policy it has impacted organizations that do not deliver sexual health specific information but simply all organizations that provide information on anything direct or indirectly related to sex or gender,” Stewart said.

Former education minister Dustin Duncan announced back in August new education policies that would require parental permission if a child under the age of 16 wanted to go by a different name or pronouns.

The policies also require parents to be informed about the sexual health education curriculum and parents will have the option to have their child opt out of those classes.

Lastly, the policies called for school boards to stop their involvement with third-party organizations connected with sexual health education as the ministry reviewed educational resources.

“Only teachers, not outside third-parties, are able to present sexual education materials in the classroom. This directive does not include professionals employed by government ministries or the Saskatchewan Health Authority,” the provincial government explained in a statement.

Stewart said the Battlefords and Area Sexual Assault Centre (BASAC) has been working in the community for over 40 years to support survivors and raise awareness to sexualized violence.

“Over the last number of years, we have maintained a strong focus on prevention education and establishing ourselves as not only experts in the community but trusted adults to the students we are seeing in the schools. This education has been created to be in line with the Saskatchewan education curriculum and is delivered in classrooms from K-9.”

She said during the 2022-23 school year they presented sexual violence prevention education programs across 14 different schools to 3,051 students.

“Children and youth having tools to understand sexual abuse, consent, body safety, etc. lowers the risk of those same children and youth becoming victims of abuse.”

Stewart said she has two full-time staff who solely focus on giving presentations at schools, adding that before the education policy announcement they were fully booked until the end of December. She said their presentations fall in line with the Saskatchewan education curriculum.

Stewart said they receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding to present this material in schools, adding it could be detrimental to their organization if they lose it.

“If we’re not allowed to do that we could be in a financial position that could greatly jeopardize our organization. If we have to start giving money back because we can’t do the job that we said we were going to do, I don’t know that we keep our doors open.”

She said they are core-funded through the provincial ministry of justice, which she said wasn’t aware of these policies coming down, but added that the ministry has been supportive of her organization and has been working to advocate for them.

Stewart reached out to Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill, who is also her MLA, saying she has received vague answers and that these rules won’t be looked at until the legislation is passed.

She said many organizations are being thrown into this umbrella of third-party organizations that are barred from presenting in schools, noting all sexual assault centres in the province are affected.

The executive director for the Saskatoon Sexual Assault and Information Centre, Reagan Conway, took to Tiktok with a video explaining their issues with the new education policy, noting it was very vague, and adding that it is impacting organizations that don’t present sexual health material in classrooms.

♬ original sound – SSAIC

Conway said they’ve worked with Saskatoon Public Schools and the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools for 17 years.

The video talked about the different programs they present in schools and the thousands of kids they’ve presented to, adding that these presentations closely follow the health curriculum dictated by the provincial government.

“SSAIC has always made sure our presentations are child friendly and aligned with the Saskatchewan Health Curriculum,” Conway said.

Stewart explained some of the programming they present in schools, prefacing that everything they talk about comes with information for kids to take back home to show their parents, and a letter is sent home beforehand letting parents know that these presentations will be happening.

She said from time to time they’ve received calls from parents asking why a sexual assault centre is presenting in their kid’s school, but everyone has been okay with it after it has been explained to them.

“For our little ones, for kindergarten to grade 1, we use a program called Protect Yourself Rules. So this program is about rules that are safe and unsafe touches; tell a grown-up; shout, run, tell; doesn’t matter who it is; stranger safety; and hitting is wrong.”

She said that’s a four session program that has a video and a booklet, which the kids can take home for them to show their parents and talk about it with them.

Stewart said they also work to normalize using proper terms for private parts.

As kids get older, Stewart said they offer the Go Guys and Go Girls program, which is condensed into a seven week program where they talk about emotions and expressing them in a healthy way, good and bad emotions and how they affect you, image and self-esteem.

“In this we do talk about gender, but we talk about it as gender stereotyping and how these beliefs can impact someone’s self-esteem. So it’s things like ‘boys should be tough and boys shouldn’t cry, and girls should be polite.'”

She said it also delves in relationships in terms of healthy friendships and dating relationships, as well as consent.

“Like everyday consent as well as sexual consent, because I bet if you asked education or even other adults they couldn’t give you the legality of what the consent law is in Saskatchewan.”

She said as kids get into grade 8 and 9 they cover things like how you can’t consent when alcohol is involved, which she says is very important for both boys and girls to understand.

Stewart said the province has asked for their school material for them to review, saying she’s concerned that the government might try to remove things from their presentations, as well as the Saskatchewan curriculum.

She said they base their programming off of best practices, but are also responding to what they are hearing from kids.

“Things have changed, but the kids are telling us what is going on.”

Stewart said schools are calling organizations like hers to come in to address certain behaviours like sexual language, noting these kids are learning these things from sites like PornHub.

She added that things like sexting are also on the rise.

“We listen to the kids and we listen to the teachers as the trends change.”

She said parents don’t always know how to have these conversations, adding that their organization is a great way to start those talks.

Stewart also gave some statistics.

“Saskatchewan has the highest rates of interpersonal violence of all of the Canadian provinces, at twice the national average. In addition, Saskatchewan’s rate of sexual assault is one of the highest in Canada, a rate of 104 sexual assaults per 100,000 persons.”

She said statistics show that one in three girls and one in six boys will become a victim of sexualized violence and that children ages 7-13 are the most vulnerable to child sexual abuse.

“Educating children and youth on the topics of consent, body safety and sexual abuse enables them to have a voice and reach out to a trusted adult if they are being abused, taking away the education is taking away that voice.”

Stewart says they are working to combat the low rates of reported sexual assault in Canada, noting out of 1,000 sexual assault roughly 33 are reported to police.

Premier Scott Moe claimed in a previous interview that these education policies will create clarity for parents and teachers, as well as build a more responsive education system.

He also claimed these policies were brought down at the request of parents in the province.

When asked why more consultation wasn’t done with experts regarding child impact or legal experts regarding the legislation, Moe said a lot of discussions happened between MLAs and parents.

He said there is an opportunity within a short period of time for the government to look at the existing supports in place for students, adding they’ve been looking at things like rapid access counselling services.

Moe said school divisions are working on their implementation plans.

When asked about what sort of guidelines schools have received regarding the pause on third-party organizations presenting sexual health material in classrooms, the province added a statement.

“It was directed on Aug. 22, 2023, that boards of education must immediately pause involvement with any third-party organization connected to sexual health education as the ministry undertakes review of educational resources to ensure alignment with curriculum outcomes,” the government said. “Only teachers, not outside third parties, will be able to present sexual education materials in the classroom. This directive does not include professionals employed by government ministries or the Saskatchewan Health Authority.”

“There were no changes made to the curriculum as a result of the new policies. Sexual assault prevention education will continue to be taught by teachers as part of the curriculum,” the statement said.

Global News reached out to the provincial government for comment and received a statement.

When asked for a description on what all encompasses sexual education material, the government said, “The Ministry of Education has a process to review and recommend resources that support sexual health education, which is part of the health education curricula. School divisions may choose to use those or other materials, as long as they align with provincial directives, to support the needs of their students. ”

The province said third-party organizations continue to be important in schools, giving an example of sexual assault centres still providing services like counselling.

“The Community Safety and Wellbeing Branch (CSWB) within Integrated Justice Services is working with its community partners to ensure all partners understand this and address any questions.”

“CSWB is actively working to support the policy direction of government alongside its community partners. At no point has CSWB agreed to advocate on behalf of any agency against the new policy, nor is that the role of the branch,” the statement added.

by Global News