Alarmed by a recent wave of sexual assaults among Norwegian youth, the City of Oslo’s top official in charge of education, Tone Tellevik Dahl, plans to offer more sex education and at an earlier age. Dahl and other city officials think more knowledge and open discussion can help curb the rise, also in sexually transmitted diseases.
“Sex education will be offered in the schools at an earlier point in time,” Dahl told newspaper Aftenposten recently. She has asked state education officials to strengthen the programs now offered in the schools, from the sixth grade. Some think sex education should begin even for pre-school children, when they’re still at day care centers.
“All schools must also include themes like ethical reflection on sexual activity, respect for one another and how youth can set limits for themselves,” said Dahl, who represents the Labour Party in Oslo’s city government. She added that the schools also must advise and encourage discussion about sexual identity, responsibility, gender diversity, pregnancy and abortion as part of sex education programs.
More reported rapes than ever before
The city’s plans for better and more broad-based sex education, especially in the areas of ethics and consequences of sexual behaviour, come after alarming new statistics show that never before have so many rapes and sexual assaults been reported to police. Oslo police have said reported assaults rose 20 percent last year, from 174 in 2014 to 225 in 2015.
Inga Marte Torkildsen of the Socialist Left party, one of Dahl’s colleagues in Oslo’s coalition government, told newspaper Dagsavisen that she thinks the increase in reports is positive in the sense that more victims are seeking help. The increase, especially among young people who’ve been subjected to date rape or assaults after parties, can also indicate that more youth are setting limits and reacting to assaults instead of trying to forget them or remain quiet because of feeling shame themselves.
“It would have been better if (sex education) started earlier,” 10th-grader Amanda Berg-Thomassen told Aftenposten. She and her fellow students recently sat through a course entitled “Sex and society” that’s already being offered, and which dwells on issues like assaults and how they should be tackled. “We learned more in those three hours than we had during all the earlier classes,” Berg-Thomassen said. Now it will be introduced at the 9th grade level.
Much of the new focus on a need for more sex education and limit-setting has been linked to the popular TV show on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) called Skam (Shame). It broke new ground in TV programming directed at youth, has won numerous awards and has been sold abroad to several other broadcasters.
Debate over prison terms for rape
Debate, meanwhile, continues to fly over the prison sentences handed to convicted rapists. Many Norwegians think they are too lenient, and there was public outrage after three young Norwegian men were acquitted of raping a young Norwegian women after heavy partying during a ski weekend at the mountain resort of Hemsedal.
Another young Norwegian woman who was a victim of gang rape in 2009 while attending Southern Methodist University in the US has also been speaking out about the need to report rapes and see them prosecuted. Monika Kørras, from Løiten in Hedmark, also has criticized what she sees as far too lenient punishment for rapes in Norway, which generally result in around five years or less in prison. Two of her attackers in Texas were ultimately charged, convicted and sentenced to life in prison, while a third was handed a 25-year term. One of her attackers has also apologized to her, which helped her feel a sense of justice.
“The (sentencing) system we have in Norway (often with a maximum of 10 years in prison and usually much less) is ridiculous,” Kørras told newspaper Dagbladet. “If this (the gang rape) had happened to me in Norway, and the rapists were out on the street again already now, I would not be the strong person I am today. It means so incredibly much to feel that justice has been served, and to feel free and safe.”