The Ministry of Education announced new parental inclusion and consent policies for Saskatchewan Schools on August 22. As part of the announcement, boards of education have been called to ‘immediately pause involvement with any third-party organization’ and also stated that ‘only teachers, not outside third-parties, will be able to present sexual education materials in the classroom.’
The Saskatoon Sexual Assault & Information Centre believes that these decisions will most certainly affect all children and youth in a negative way.
For SSAIC, this choice by the government has put the work that we have done with the school systems in Saskatoon and Area for the last 17 years into jeopardy. Not only the work is in jeopardy, but children and youth understanding of sexual abuse, consent, etc. We have been made aware that our presentations will not resume in Fall 2023 until the Ministry of Education reviews the details of each program that is presented to students by third party educators.
The presentations provided by SSAIC are about sexualized violence prevention and awareness. Although our work doesn’t delve into “sexual health”, this decision will provide an opportunity for some to apply it broadly to any third party who delivers information that they deem related. Sexual assault centres provide industry gold-standard counselling to people impacted by sexualized violence, including children, and are the experts in sexualized violence in Saskatchewan. Equally important, we provide age- and sector-appropriate education on sexualized violence, healthy relationships, consent, and violence prevention to a number of disciplines, educators, students, survivors and more.
In 2022-2023, SSAIC provided 154 “I’m the Boss of Me” presentations, reaching 4,166 students in our city. “I’m the Boss of Me” is a school-based child sexual abuse education and prevention program delivered to students in Grade 4. It was created 18 years ago by SSAIC and has operated in partnership with the Saskatoon Public School Division and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools ever since.
Our new program, “No is a Full Sentence”, was delivered to 854 Grade 8 students last fall. This program is presented in an age-appropriate and gentle way, and talks directly about healthy relationships, consent, boundaries, and violence. All of the content in this unit is tied closely to the Saskatchewan Grade 8 Health Curriculum, outlined by the Ministry of Education. We are currently preparing for our second season of “No is a Full Sentence” by onboarding new staff and a dozen volunteers, all of which are now on hold.
Throughout all the years of presenting our school-based education programs, we have always received positive feedback from students, parents, school counsellors, teachers and administrators. In addition to our school-based programs, SSAIC provided 317 hours of public education to community groups in 2022-23, such as future teachers, nurses, lawyers, and social workers.
Saskatchewan has the highest rate of interpersonal violence of the Canadian provinces, at twice the national average. In addition, Saskatchewan’s rate of sexual assault is one of the highest in Canada, a rate of 104 sexual assaults per 100,000 persons. At SSAIC, we are committed to ensuring children and youth have access to accurate and age-appropriate abuse prevention information. SSAIC has always made sure our presentations are child-friendly and aligned with the Saskatchewan Health Curriculum. We know that so many parents are supportive of these lessons being taught to their children, but for the few who are not, the danger is quite clear. Giving parents the ability to opt out their child from learning this important information puts those children at an even greater risk, as statistically children are abused in their homes by a family member. With the ramifications of this policy being unclear, unsafe adults may now have the ability to deny their children the safety and awareness that we provide. The impact of that is unacceptable.
In November 2022, the Government of Saskatchewan endorsed the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. The plan focuses on supporting victims and survivors, increasing prevention, making the justice system more responsive, implementing Indigenous-led approaches and reaching underserved and at-risk populations. This summer, the Federal Government announced an agreement with the province to inject $20.3 million in funding over four years to address gender-based violence in Saskatchewan, with specific emphasis on increasing prevention to help propel this work forward. We expect the Government of Saskatchewan to move forward on its commitment and investment in addressing and preventing gender-based violence in the province, focusing on the fundamental area of education and working in partnership with trusted service providers like SSAIC, who have been delivering expert-level education for decades.
We are asking the government to reevaluate this policy and its harmful effects it will have on sexualized violence prevention and awareness. No one wants more sexualized violence to happen. One of the clearest ways to minimize this horrifying crime is through programs like ours.
On behalf of the entire SSAIC Staff and Board of Directors,
SSAIC Executive Director