On the 28th October Girlguiding published posts on their social media celebrating ‘Ace Week’ in support of their ‘asexual volunteers and members’. Girlguiding specifically stated on Twitter and on Facebook that they wanted to “raise awareness and understanding of the asexual community”. The inevitable implication of this is that the organisation is encouraging leaders and volunteers to discuss asexuality with the children in order to fulfil the stated aim of ‘increasing understanding’. On the Girlguiding public Facebook page a number of leaders then shared their own sexuality.
We felt this was wholly inappropriate, and said so.
Because of the vulnerabilities of all children, everyone that works with children must prioritise their needs and welfare, this is part of being a “suitable person” – these responsibilities are wide and cannot be delegated. We know that safeguarding is at heart risk management and that this risk management is a continuous process. For this reason, there is never a time in which any adult responsible for children can afford to let their guard down. We are concerned that Girl Guides appears to have forgotten the importance of continuous self-reflection. In doing this, the organisation has thrown out all previous good practice and become a safeguarding liability.
Two days after publishing the post celebrating their asexual volunteers and members, Girlguiding defended their posts on their Twitter page, writing that the organisation should be a place where “everyone feels welcome… and has an equal sense of belonging”. This is extremely problematic. Rigorous safer recruitment procedures exist for a reason, and not everyone is welcome when working with children; indeed one of the key principles of safeguarding is that some people must not be allowed to work with children.
Safer recruitment procedures are implemented to exclude people who would abuse children and also those who cannot demonstrate an appropriate level of understanding of safeguarding. This would include adults who undertake conversations with children about their own adult sexuality and what it means. To be clear, this does not include a brief and appropriate mention of relationship status, such as a guide leader who states that she and her wife are going on holiday or a person who states that they do not have a partner and are holidaying with friends. All adults working or volunteering with children should be able to understand and respect the safeguarding concern that an adult discussing their sexuality with children leads to confusion for those children about whether conversations with other adults about their sexual desires is appropriate.
Organisations must operate a culture of vigilance, where concerns are taken seriously. And if there are cries of ‘racist’, ‘homophobe’, ‘transphobe’ and ‘pearl-clutchers’, we must all remember that these are recognised silencing techniques, and are to be ignored.
Our safeguarding concerns in relation to Girlguiding’s social media posts on asexuality, and the subsequent contributions from their leaders and volunteers, include:
1. Using children as tools for the validation of adults. Any adult that believes that it is appropriate to use the organisation they volunteer at – supposedly for the benefit of children – to make themselves feel heard or recognised, should step down.
2. Everything that is discussed should be for the exclusive benefit of girls. Girl Guides is not a support group for adults.
3. Most Girl Guide leaders will simply not be qualified to discuss sexuality issues with children. Any adult that initiates a conversation with children for their own benefit is complicit in the blurring of boundaries.
4. If a child initiates a conversation with a leader about asexual feelings, this could be as a result of current or previous abuse; it would need to be considered as a potential safeguarding concern.
5. It may also be that the child is reacting to our over-sexualised society and that in discussing asexuality, a child is expressing their distress at how society is telling them to behave.
6. Alternatively a child may simply not be old enough to have developed sexual feelings; putting a label onto this may be detrimental to their development.
It is deeply unhelpful for a young person’s worries to be turned into yet another ‘sexuality’ to be celebrated, when, in fact, they may need real help. We know that Stonewall awards points to its members according to adherence to its ideology: We believe that Girl Guides posts such as these are designed to win points.
7. Girlguiding leaders should not encourage the keeping of secrets from parents. A leader stated on the Facebook discussion that:
“Its important to give [children] somewhere where they can safely talk about how they are feeling as they may not feel comfortable about it at home.”
The fact that children are in more danger at home than from strangers must not be used to justify a lack of safeguarding by public bodies and charities. Indeed, it is well known that those with bad intentions will seek roles in which they can plausibly hide them. The dangers are amplified if there is a culture of secrecy. By withholding key conversations from parents, such leaders are not “working together to safeguard children”, as required by statutory guidance.
8. A leader also comments on the Facebook post “There is no safeguarding issue at all”. Being blind to dangers means that steps can’t be taken to protect against risks. A denial of risk does not mean that there is no risk.
9. Asexuality does not mean that a person does not have sex, it means that they have no sexual desires. It is our opinion that conversations about asexuality may groom children to see enthusiastic consent as an optional extra; this is clearly a risk. The idea that sex is some sort of obligation is not one that we believe children should be exposed to. Indeed, it may well be used to convince children that there is nothing wrong with rejecting the requirement of consent.
Girlguiding’s Facebook post appeared to encourage or give permission for volunteers to start talking to children about their own individual adult sexuality (as opposed to just mentioning a boyfriend or girlfriend in passing). The fact that volunteers then appeared on the public Facebook post to share their sexuality backs up the idea that some may now think it appropriate. This behaviour blurs the boundaries and will lead children to be confused about what is or isn’t normal for an adult to discuss with children about the adult’s sexual desires. This makes it much easier for a predator to begin to groom a child.
As an example, if a youth group leader says or lets it be known that he is asexual and then a child asks a question about it, the predator has now got an easy way in to discuss sexual desire or lack of with a child. He can pretend to be increasing their knowledge. He can work out how to exploit the specific vulnerabilities of individual children. He can use the cover of “I am an asexual so I have no sexual desire” to give the child a false sense of reassurance while he continues to groom her (or him). He can touch her without her worrying that it is a sexual touch. He can get quite far until she feels that it is too late and that she cannot get help. He can also make her feel as though no-one would believe her as ‘everyone knows that he is asexual’.
The boundary should not be crossed which allows adults to discuss their sexuality and their sexual desires or lack of with children and blur boundaries and increase confusion. It also makes it much harder for parents and teachers to spot that an adult is grooming a child if other adults blur the boundary about what can be discussed, and if conversations about individual adult sexualities are happening in an increasing number of settings that children are in contact with.
It is apparent that some Girl Guide leaders either have not understood their safeguarding training or that they have received inadequate training. We hope that Girlguiding will genuinely reflect on why so many people have been critical of their posts.