If young girls were taught abstinence, there would be less sex abuse. “If we did empower this message into girls, imbued this message in schools, we’d probably have less sex abuse.” This is what Nadine Dorries MP said on Channel 5, speaking on the Vanessa Feltz show.
There is some interesting conversation, involving both Nadine Dorries MP and Julie Bentley from sexual health charity FPA, around how to make sex education better and how to include information on relationships. The segment from which the quote above comes is at about 19 minutes in, with the particular quote just before 20 minutes. I can only imagine that it was intended to suggest that a culture of promiscuity leads to a culture of sexual abuse. The other possible meaning, that victims of sexual abuse simply didn’t say “no” (which is in fact hinted at when she says that girls may later realise that something was “the wrong thing to do”), is extremely offensive.
However, even the idea that sexual abuse arises from a culture of promiscuity is misguided. Firstly, sexual abuse is rarely about sex, but about power. Secondly, abstinence provides sexuality and virginity with almost mythical status, making both consenting sex and sexual abuse even more powerful and alluring. And thirdly, the incredibly high likelihood that not all people will choose abstinence leads to a divided view of women* as either madonnas or whores.
Of course all individuals should be given the confidence to make their own decisions, without being pressured into doing anything they don’t want to. Of course parents should be a part of this conversation. Of course it’s an issue for both boys and girls. But making such claims about abstinence and sexual abuse is hardly the way to achieve a society full of self-confidence.
(* It’s historically been women, rather than men, who are perceived as either madonnas or whores.)