Theatre, the other (unexpected) platform for teaching young people about sex and sexual violence

Theatre, the other (unexpected) platform for teaching young people about sex and sexual violence

A moment from the performance of ‘Jauría’, written by Jordi Casanovas based on the transcriptions of the ‘La Manada’ trial and statements by the victim and her attackers that appeared in various media.

(Vanessa Rábade)

She covers her reddened cheeks with her hands and her eyes fill with tears. “It is as if they had raped me. We’re devastated, we’re in shock,” says Paula Tapial, one of the students of the Juan de la Cierva secondry school in Madrid who attended a special performance for schools of the play Jauría. Next to her, other pupils say: “You feel helpless, you don’t know how to help”; “Now I understand why it is so hard to report it when you are raped”; “It’s incredible that her assailants thought they hadn’t done anything wrong.”

These young people are mostly 18 years old, the same age as the girl who in 2016 reported five men for having gang-raped her at the Fiesta de San Fermín in Pampalona (best-known for its bull run). The arrest of the five members of ‘La Manada’ (the ‘Wolf Pack’) led to a highly publicised trial that ended last year with a sentence that did not satisfy anyone and that has recently been appealed by the Prosecutor of the Spanish Supreme Court. The nine-year prison sentence for sexual abuse (and not for sexual assault, which would entail a longer sentence), brought the feminist movement out on the streets en-masse.

Jauría’, written by Jordi Casanovas and directed by Miguel del Arco, reconstructs the trial using statements by the victim and her attackers. The result is a documentary fiction that bluntly dissects all aspects of sexual violence, not glossing over anything, as it focuses not only on the rapists, but on the treatment received by the woman who has been assaulted at the hands of society as a whole. The Spanish director explained that the reason he decided to reserve an exclusive session per week for secondary schools that were interested in seeing it was because young people “are the protagonists of tomorrow, those who are going to have to reinvent and rebuild relations between men and women”.

Fernando Sanz, a teacher at the Madrid-based school that went to see the play, tells Equal Times: “We think this is a very interesting initiative, although we would like sex education to be addressed in a systematic and scheduled manner in the classrooms, regardless of the wishes of each teacher or school. We do not want such a vital issue to depend on a teacher’s concerns.”

His words express regret for a ‘vacuum’ in the field of sex education in Spain that experts denounce with increasing force. “The issue is overlooked, orphaned despite the fact that international organisations such as WHO and UNESCO consider sexuality a human right and a central issue in the development of individuals,” says María Teresa Bejarano, a researcher at the University of Castilla-La Mancha.

“There is not a single compulsory and core subject in Spain that deals with sex education. It is left to the criteria decided by the regions, which usually include it as a part of other subjects, so the content is diluted,” she explains.

“Every educational institution in Spain decides what it wants to provide in terms of sex education and, often, they only call us when there is already a risk or they have a specific concern, such as having discovered dangerous practices or unwanted pregnancies,” explains Roberto Sanz, a psychologist at the Sexpol Foundation, a specialised organisation that prepares workshops in secondary schools.

“When we give a course, we address the most urgent issues, usually health and prevention. We would like to deal in depth with other matters that are also important such as the management of pleasure, consent, self-responsibility, and equality between men and women,” he adds.

This ‘gap’ in Spanish sex education leaves the way open, according to experts, to other non-school channels of initiation. Young Spaniards only get 22 per cent of their information about sexuality from school according to a joint study by the German Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network. A fact that places Spain far behind other European countries who have moved significantly further ahead in sex education, such as the Netherlands, the Flemish part of Belgium and Austria (where 93 per cent, 86 per cent and 84 per cent, respectively, of the students’ information on sexuality comes from their school or educational institute).

In Spain, the void left by schools is being filled by social networks: the internet carries 33 per cent of the information received by young Spaniards, according to the same study. “Pornography is the most common form of sexual content that young people see online and it perpetuates sexist behaviour and very chauvinist practicesthat denigrate women. This pornographic content, that has always existed but is now more accessible, is not balanced out by any education from the professionals to dismantle stereotypes and emphasise the role of affection,” explains Sanz.

And the result of this? Young people, actually just children, who think they know a lot about sex because they have regularly seen pornography.

The Disconnected Psychology Institute, which specialises in mobile phone addiction, puts the age at which children are first exposed to pornography online in Spain at 10 years.

Experts believe that this habitual contact, with no shields and no preparation, could be a setback for equality, promoting sexual violence and even sickness if use becomes compulsive and perverse. “There are specific categories of rape in pornography, we are going crazy,” says psychologist Alejandro Villena, who specialises in treating sexual difficulties. “Pornography eliminates any trace of affection, and gives a purely physical and distorted image of what a sexual relationship is,” she explains.

Some young people who have developed sexual dysfunction after abusing pornography attend Villena’s clinic. One of them, now 27 years old, tells us about his struggle to overcome his addiction. “At first my sex life was good, but later on I couldn’t get an erection. I felt indifferent to real bodies, I was seeking impossible physical perfection,” he explains. It has taken him years of treatment and effort to get out of this situation. He still has frequent relapses.

Two-speed Europe

The fear of uncontrolled pornography and the proliferation of cases of multiple rapes and other ‘La Manada’ type cases, has relaunched a debate on sex education in Spain that is already happening or has been long surpassed in other members of the European Union.

“There is a big difference between Spain and other European states, such as Germany or the Nordic countries where sex education has been fully integrated for years and has strong support,” says Irene Martinez, a researcher at the University of Castilla-La Mancha.

“In many of these countries they are now going one step further and including content that goes beyond the merely biological approach and educates people about issues such as sexual violence, the fight against sexism and about human rights” she explains.

Sweden is one example of the Europe that is taking on this second phase of sex education. In this European country, that introduced sex education in the classroom in 1955, feminist collectives are now striving to ensure that content on sexual violence and chauvinism are a compulsory and independent subject on the academic curriculum.

At the moment, training on sexual and sexist violence is only given as part of the sex education programme. This is the trend in most European countries, even those that are the most advanced in terms of sex education in the classroom, such as Germany or Switzerland.

Only a small number of European nations (Austria and the Czech Republic, amongst the exceptions) educate students specifically in order to prevent abuse, rape or any violent sexual behaviour. And, in countries like Spain, this type of content is totally absent from the classroom.

“We have to ensure that sex education is based on the principle of equality between men and women. And for this we need a change of mentality and adequate training for teachers, which is not happening officially. Currently we have teachers who are self-taught on their own initiative,” says researcher María Teresa Bejarano.

In the European Union, sexual crimes increased by 8 per cent between 2015 and 2016, according to figures from Eurostat, the European statistics office. In Spain, a woman reports a rape every five hours, while sexual attacks with penetration increased by 23 per cent in 2018 compared to the previous year, according to data confirmed by the Ministry of the Interior. This rise has to do, according to experts, with a lower tolerance and greater awareness of the need to denounce such crimes. Despite this growing visibility of abuse, research continues to consider these data the tip of an iceberg – and that around 70 per cent of victims of this type of crime do not report it.

This article has been translated from Spanish.