Why use the Flag System?
It’s crucial that all children and youths have a healthy sexual development. This growth process starts at an early age. However, in many cases the boundaries of children and youths are crossed, and they are confronted with sexually unacceptable behaviour. The Flag System is used in supporting healthy sexual development and preventing sexual coercion.
Sexual coercion is a major problem. Globally, as many as 20% of girls and 8% of boys are confronted with some form of sexual coercion or sexually abusive behaviour before they turn 18 years old (Pereda, Guilera, Forns & Gomez-Benito, 2009). These numbers vary per country. Sexually abusive behaviour can refer to minor offenses such as harmful remarks and physical harassment, but also more serious cases of sexual abuse or sexual coercion. This may be the case when experimenting between children or youths gets out of hand, when there is sexually abusive behaviour between an adult and a child, or when there is sexual abuse between a youth and a child.
The consequences of sexual abuse can be complex and grave, depending on the nature and severity of the abuse. It can impact on sexual integrity, disrupt development and self-image, be an obstacle in the ability to enter intimate relationships, and cause various behavioural and health problems in both the short or long term.
‘How can I help children and young people to assess if sexual behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable?’
Sexual coercion and sexually abusive behaviour occurs in all situations involving children and youths and both within and outside of relationships. Various risk and protection factors (individually, socially and structurally) matter a great deal when trying to prevent sexual coercion. Some of these factors can be influenced, such as the resilience of children and youths, the quality of sexual education and mentoring, the level of safety in various contexts, the amount of supervision etc. That’s why professionals who work with children and youths have a key role to play in being vigilant.
Proper sexual education and mentoring can help facilitate a healthy sexual development free from problems. This means providing the right kind of information, but also opening discussion about sexual behaviour and responding to it in an educationally appropriate manner. The Flag System can help children and youths to become more resilient, as well as reflect on or adjust their sexual behaviour. Sexual integrity is crucial in this: a sense of awareness, respect and responsibility regarding one’s own sexuality and that of others.