RSE might have helped me realise I was in an abusive relationship

For Sexual Health Week 2020 and throughout September, Brook is celebrating the introduction of mandatory RSE in all schools in England. Molly Lawrenson, 20, talks to us about how important RSE is in helping young people identify abuse in their relationships.

I believe that mandatory RSE is essential if we, as a society, are ever going to end abusive relationships. When I was a teenager I was in an abusive relationship, and I think having proper education about healthy relationships could have made a vital difference.

When I was sixteen I met a girl who was two years older than me at a party. After a couple of weeks of flirting, we ended up kissing and our relationship moved quickly after that.

At the time, I was coming to terms with my sexuality and this was my first experience of falling in love.

She told me she loved me after three weeks of being together, said she would be there for me through anything and always wanted to spend time together. I was young and naïve, and thought these quick portrayals of love were normal in a relationship. However, I know now that these were signs of ‘love bombing’, which is common at the start of abusive relationships.

Very quickly after the blissful first two months of our relationship, she started sharing her negative opinions about my friends. And then her negative opinions on my parents. And then her negative opinions about aspects of my personality, such as me being ‘too loud’ or ‘too opinionated’ whenever I disagreed with her.

Even though I knew she wasn’t being fair, I had learnt from films that relationships aren’t always easy and sometimes the person you’re with can be hurtful. So, I stayed.

Within these first couple of months if someone had told me what ‘love bombing’ was, or that abuse doesn’t have to be physical, I would have left. It was at this point when RSE could have really helped me if it had existed.

During the three years we were together, our relationship got progressively worse. We argued all the time about how I was ‘too opinionated’, ‘too happy’, ‘too sad’, ‘talked too much’, ‘wasn’t communicating enough’, ‘wasn’t seeing her enough’, ‘wanted to see her too much’. Whenever I would try to joke around, she would often slap me across the legs or kick me for ‘making fun of her’. She made me do things during sex I was uncomfortable with. When I had (finally) passed my driving test, I took her out for a drive and she tried to put on her music instead of mine. When I said no, she yelled at me and slapped me across the face.

The first time I tried to end the relationship for good was after she got drunk when we were in Prague and called me a whore, and pushed me down in the middle of the street for laughing with a man at the bar. Two men from outside the bar pried her off me and helped me put her in a taxi. I stayed because flights to get home were too expensive.

As lonely as those three years were, I know my situation was not unique. There are thousands of teenagers who experience abuse at the hands of their partners.

To have love, sex and relationships introduced in a toxic, violent way can change how you perceive any future partners you may have. Many victims who escape their first abusive relationship fall into another. Why? Because you learn through your partner that you deserve to be treated poorly. In order to break the cycle of abuse, we must learn at a young age that abuse doesn’t start with a perpetrator punching you in the face on your first date. Abusers are smarter than that and it starts slow.

Mandatory RSE in secondary schools is a promising start. We can begin to teach teenagers what a healthy relationship looks like: i.e. abuse is a NO and consent is a MUST.

Whilst I do believe the RSE proposal syllabus is a good starting point, it isn’t as ‘mandatory’ as the government are portraying. Faith schools, for example, can opt out of teaching some of the syllabus. Parents have the option to withdraw their children from mandatory RSE for their first four years at secondary schools.

These loopholes could result in vulnerable young people falling through the cracks and experiencing abuse that could have been prevented.

By allowing these loopholes in ‘mandatory’ RSE, it tells victims their stories still don’t matter and listening to them is optional. I still don’t understand how it has taken until 2020 for consent to finally be on the syllabus.

However, the fact that all young people will now experience at least some form of RSE is a huge step in the right direction. I truly believe it will help people in my position see the red flags a lot sooner than I did.

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