Children are put at risk of abuse because our culture treats underage sex as ‘normal’, a new report has warned.
The study, by the Family Education Trust, uncovered evidence of health and social workers across England failing to challenge underage sexual activity.
Its research comes after several scandals involving girls as young as eleven being groomed and abused by older men.
The charity examined several serious case reviews, including those on the tragic cases of abuse in Rotherham, Bristol and Oxfordshire.
In each instance, a common theme was the failure to challenge girls about underage sex for fear of being seen as judgmental.
The report found that in Rochdale, a “preoccupation with reducing teenage pregnancy rates had encouraged a culture in which underage sexual activity went unchallenged and many young people were placed at risk of sexual exploitation.”
One 14 year old girl was said to have told a crisis intervention team that she was pregnant and that the father was 21, but no action was taken.
The publication of the report, ‘Unprotected’, was announced by its author, Director of the Family Education Trust Norman Wells.
He said: “Relaxed attitudes towards underage sex has led to what can only be described as a paralysis in child protection agencies”.
“Even though the normalisation of underage sex has been identified repeatedly in the serious case reviews as a reason for the complacency of child protection agencies, there is no indication of a willingness to address these underlying issues either at the local or the national level.”
He added: “The evidence from the serious case reviews suggests that the relativistic approach advocated by the leading campaigners for statutory sex education is not the solution, but is rather part of the problem.
“We should be wary of any approach to sex and relationships education that is reluctant to declare anything ‘wrong’. Children, young people and professionals alike all need a clear moral compass in order to safely negotiate the confused and confusing landscape that lies before them.”
The 152 page report was endorsed by Professor David Paton of Nottingham University.
He said: “A clear picture emerges of a culture in which underage sexual activity has come to be viewed as a normal part of growing up and seen as relatively harmless as long as it is consensual.”
Mr Wells added that an “unhealthy emphasis on confidentiality has been used too often as an excuse to exclude parents who might have been in a position to help stop the abuse at an earlier stage.”
He concluded by calling on the Government to undertake an “urgent review”, saying: “With the publication of this report, policymakers and professionals working in sexual health no longer have any excuse to ignore the evidence”.
The Family Education Trust has called on the Department of Health to review its guidance in order to prevent the provision of contraception to under 16s and to give greater recognition to the role of parents.
The group also want a review of Crown Prosecution Service guidelines “with a view to ensuring that due rigour is restored to the law on the age of consent”.
Responding to the report, sexual health organisation Brook claimed that the average age people have sex is 16, and described sex between teenagers as “healthy behaviour”.