“No one taught me it wasn’t my fault. That in those moments it can’t be your fault. Nobody told me I should tell someone, that such things are not normal,” says M.A., victim of sexual abuse and of a failed system.

Romania has the second highest number in Europe when it comes to mothers under the age of 18, after Bulgaria, representing a percentage of 23% of all women that give birth in Europe. Romania has double the abortion rate compared to the rest of the EU countries, with over 70,000 abortions per year, 1 in 10 women being teenagers. “We have the largest number of underage mothers in Europe, we have the largest number of young people infected with HIV in Europe, we have the youngest grandmother in the world, at only 23 years old, the highest incidence of cervical cancer. About 700 women under the age of 15 become mothers every year,” stated USR-PLUS senator Irineu Darău.

M.A. as she would like to be presented in the article, claims that she went through a kind of sexual abuse, without knowing that the incident could even be reported to the police.

“I was in the 6th grade and I went to the park next to the school with a friend. I was on a swing and in the meantime a boy a few years older than me came. He started talking to us, making bad taste jokes and then touching us. My friend got off the swing and left, and I tried to follow her, but he stood in front of me. I don’t know how, as I was walking towards the park gate, I ended up on the grass, with him over me. I don’t know how this happened, not at all, as if everything that happened between the minute I was next to the swing and the one in which I was immobilized has been erased from my memory.” M.A. took a short break, then continued softly: “He tried to put his hand under my blouse but I fought back, and when I looked down I saw that he was trying to open his pants. At that moment I know I thought “This is it. This is happening and it’s happening to me.” I remember hitting him with my hands, sticking my fingernails in his arms and scratching him all over his face. I was so scared and it felt I had no strength, no power at all and that nothing I was doing affected him. The next thing I know is that my friend started throwing rocks at him and shouting while I screamed from under him. He finally got up and left. I don’t remember anything after that.”

M.A. admits that she did not think she was abused sexually until recently. No one explained to her how she should act and that she should not be ashamed of it; no one explained that she was a victim. “Now that I’m talking about it, and I can hear myself saying this out loud, I realize that this was a serious attack, that it could have ended much worse, but back then I did not know. I did not understand. I was ashamed because I thought it was my fault. For a long time I believed that and I was ashamed. I was thinking, “What if someone saw me and they will tell my mom, what would I do?” My parents still don’t know about the incident, and I’m 22 years old. No one taught me it wasn’t my fault. That in those moments it can’t be your fault. Nobody told me I should tell someone, that such things are not normal.”

M.A. says that if things had ended worse, she would not have known what to do. Parents usually don’t talk about it at home, and the educational system doesn’t want to take on such responsibilities, leaving young people like her confused in situations on which their lives can depend. “If I sit down and think, I don’t know if I would have known how to proceed if he had managed to come to an end with the plan. For many years the only people who knew about it were me and my friend, and now my boyfriend. No one else, and that’s not right at all. Children should be taught that abuse is not their fault, that they should not feel ashamed, and that they should tell someone when it happens. They should be taught what to do if the worst happens, how to proceed and how to protect themselves. Sex education is not just about teaching pleasure, it’s about the future protection you offer to the ones you are teaching.”

Elena Constanța is a biology teacher and, at the end of every 7th grade, she also teaches a chapter on human reproduction. “It is not the proper sex education they need, but in those few hours that the education system offers us for this subject, I try to approach as much as possible. I tell them about intimate relationships, commitment, about pregnancy and contraception and about sexually transmitted diseases. For several years now, however, I have been keeping one special hour for any kind of questions they might have. I know they won’t raise their hand to ask in front of other colleagues, so I sit in the chair, they write the question or questions on a piece of paper, bring them to me, then I read the questions and answer them. This way they are safe from the shame they may feel about such a subject, and the information is given.”

Elena says that sex education in schools is important, but just as important are the teachers and how they teach it. “Sex education is highly needed. If they don’t want to start a project from scratch related to it, then at least give us more hours on teaching the human reproduction chapter. Give us the tools we need so that we can work with them. We get the job done with what we have; this is something normal happening in the educational system in Romania. But besides that, teachers are also important. I’ve been doing this for so many years, and it wasn’t one in which I started the lesson and didn’t hear giggles, didn’t see how they chatted or made jokes about the subject. You have to be prepared for any reaction from them, and it’s good they are happening. They are intrigued. They have questions and are often ashamed to ask, but they are curious and want to know. If the information does not come from the education system, the chances of it coming from parents are almost non-existent.”

Mihai, a 25-year-old police officer, says that sex education is made to teach young people how to protect themselves sexually and to understand when they are in danger. “As if the spectrum has different shades and eventually reaches the personal pleasures part, it does not mean that the whole education revolves around this subject. Politicians quarrel with each other and come up with arguments like: sex education teaches your children about masturbation, makes them gay, makes them sexually obsessed. No. Sex education in schools has the role of teaching children what sexual abuse is and making them understand that it is not normal for something like this to happen to them. It has the purpose to make them understand that when this happens they have to say it, not to be ashamed because this is a subject that is far too little or too badly approached by Romanian families.”

Mihai explained how easy sexual abuse can occur and can be ignored: “For example, one of this year’s cases of sexual assault on minors had nothing to do with the sexual act itself, as some believe. One girl played cards with some boys that were older than her, and when she lost, as punishment, she was made to take indecent pictures, let others to touch certain parts of her body, or she was forced to touch others. They were fully clothed and that cannot mean anything sexual in the eyes of a minor. We found out about this incident because one of the boys in the group started to brag about these pictures. The girl didn’t want to talk about it even when we knocked on her parent’s door and asked her for statements. Her parents had no idea that this had happened. The girl did not say anything because she did not consider those dares from the game of cards to be sexual abuse.”

What do members of the Parliament see in sex education?

For the PSD senator Titus Corlățean, sex education is about stealing innocence and teaching about pleasure: “In the sexuality section, I quote: the joy and pleasure of touching one’s own body. This kind of misery, as a parent and – more recently – as a grandfather, who has some responsibilities in social and family life, generates a profound reaction for me against such a way and neo-Marxist ideology to impose the trampling of the innocence of our children.”

For AUR senator Mircea Dăneasa, sex education only sexualizes the brain: “The modern man – neuroscience says it, not me – has a supersexualized brain due to the premature development of sexual synapses. And this is science, not ideology. When sexual synapses develop, the human brain is no longer fit for study.”

What is the purpose of sex education in the lives of young people

According to an article from MedLife, that is:

“- to obtain accurate information about their sexual and reproductive rights; information to dispel myths; references to resources and services;
– to develop certain skills such as critical thinking skills, communication and negotiation, decision making; the feeling of self-confidence, the ability to take responsibility, the ability to ask questions and seek help; empathy;
– to have positive attitudes and values: openness, respect for oneself and for others, positive attitude towards sexual and reproductive health.”

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

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