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The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"This is a lesson in morality"
 real 56k

Monday, 21 May, 2001, 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
Talking pupils out of sexual violence
drama about violence
The initiative includes an interactive play about violence
Pupils in Essex are being given special lessons designed to challenge the attitudes that can lead to rape and sexual assault.

The "Respect" project - which is being piloted at three primary and three secondary schools in Thurrock - follows a survey which suggested some young people believed sexual assault and violence could be justified in some circumstances.

Thyrza Leyshon
Thyrza Leyshon is confident attitudes can be changed
A national survey of over 2,000 youngsters, aged between 14 and 21, found one in two young men and one in three young women believed it was acceptable to hit a woman or force her to have sex in certain situations, for example, if she was "his wife" or was "nagging".

And 36% of the young men surveyed thought they might personally hit a woman or force her to have sex.

A similar survey of 250 young people in Thurrock came up with broadly similar findings.

Eight-week course

The special educational programme - part of the government's living without fear scheme - is designed to encourage pupils to develop non-violent relationships.

drama about violence
Many youngsters thought violence could be justified
Weekly classes, incorporated into the school curriculum over an eight week period, cover issues such as rape, domestic violence, gender equality, positive relationships and anti-bullying.

The scheme also includes an interactive play, where pupils explore the impact of violence in relationships.

Thyrza Leyshon, from the South Essex Rape Crisis Centre, said tolerance of violence was widespread.

"It is a reflection not just of what young people think - I think it is a reflection of unfortunately of values, attitudes and beliefs that are there on our society and not just British society - all over Europe, all over the world," she said.

But such attitudes could be challenged, she stressed.

Possible expansion

The project is being funded and monitored by the Home Office and, if successful, could form the basis for future educational initiatives across the country.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said the living without fear programme demonstrated the government's commitment to reducing violence against women.

"We are committed to learning from, and promoting, effective ideas which work to reduce crime and help victims," Mr Straw said.

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See also:

13 Feb 01 | Scotland
Calls to abuse helpline soar
06 Apr 01 | Education
Pupils 'learn about sex from soaps'
13 Nov 00 | Education
Plea to 'get tough with girls'
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