Clitbait meets with CERT Scotland, a research-based organisation campaigning for better access and information about contraceptive healthcare across Scotland. Co-presidents Kate Astbury and Lucy Wellman discuss their current campaign against stealthing, a form of sexual violence.
Historically, sex education has been side-lined by government agencies, schools, and medical professionals, regarded as an uncomfortable and inessential accompaniment to our education system. However, in the last few decades approaches to sex education, originally restricted to discussions surrounding puberty, have broadened to include everything from pleasure-based sex education, to consent and LGBT+ inclusive discussions.
The growing prevalence of Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) in schools and universities in the UK especially is a welcome one, with the RSE being made compulsory at all English secondary schools and teenage pregnancy rates reaching an all-time low.1 Popular TV shows like Netflix’s Sex Education have also increasingly toyed with our inherited sexual taboos by addressing sexual health and sexual stereotypes in ways that our grandparents would most likely cringe at.
Despite this incredible progress, sex education, and in particular, contraceptive education, still falls short.
In Scotland especially, sex education has still not been made mandatory in secondary schools, despite it being a part of the recommended curriculum.2 Contraception, in all its forms, is still not equally accessible to all, nor is everyone of all identities equally informed about their options.
Whilst this is not just a Scot-specific issue, organisations like CERT Scotland, established in 2019 within the University of Edinburgh’s Buchanan Institute, have begun to bring awareness to these inequalities through research-based change. Their 2019 report, which first argued for contraceptive educational reform, found that 95.9% of the 295 respondents in their online scope survey believed that there should be improvements made involving contraception in Scotland.
I sat down with CERT’s two co-presidents, Kate Astbury and Lucy Wellman, to discuss the ins and outs of CERT, the organisation’s goals and its current campaign against Stealthing.
CERT Scotland has such a wide breadth of research, and some might get confused as to what it is you guys are trying to achieve, so could you describe what it is that CERT does?
Yes! CERT stands for Contraception: Education and Reform Team. We are a policy group campaigning for contraception empowerment in Scotland. CERT aims to produce research-based change and a platform to champion the voices of others. We run roughly six research teams a year that look into a wide variety of topics, such as queer women’s experiences of contraception and the impact of contraception on libido. We are also actively campaigning to create specific legislation making stealthing illegal in Scotland, using our published research paper on stealthing as our informative basis.
What’s been the proudest achievement of CERT so far?
One of our proudest achievements is definitely the growth of our CERT community, going from 4 to just over 60 members in four years. It’s always so cool to meet everyone that plays a part of CERT, based in all different places around the world. Other than that, we were super proud and excited to be published in the British Medical Journal, as well as the production of our stealthing research which is the first of its kind in Scotland/the UK.
The Stealthing report, produced by CERT in 2021, is one of the organisation’s most notable research papers. The definition of stealthing, as defined by CERT’s co-presidents is;
A form of sexual violence which violates the terms of consent. It occurs when one partner removes or purposely damages barrier-method contraception (such as an external condom) during sexual intercourse without their partner’s consent.
The findings from their 2021 report were shocking, with only 69% of survey respondents stating they knew what stealthing was, and 16% reporting that they themselves had been stealthed. Survivor statements detailed that those who had been stealthed felt that their autonomy had been violated, or the experience had induced negative mental health impacts.3 As a result of this report, CERT launched a public campaign in March 2022 against Stealthing in Scotland.
What is it that your campaign aims to do and why is it important that we campaign against Stealthing?
Scottish statute lacks explicit recognition of stealthing as sexual assault, and there have been no convictions that illegitimate the experiences of victim-survivors. No one has ever been prosecuted for stealthing in Scotland, and yet, scarily, 32% of people who responded to our original survey in 2021 shared that they knew an individual who had been stealthed at some point in their life. We campaign to champion the voices of victim-survivors, to raise awareness and educate the public, and, ultimately, establish specific legislation in Scots Law to criminalise stealthing.
It’s a common misconception that stealthing is not sexual assault. Survivors in the UK and beyond have often expressed that they had no idea they had even been sexually assaulted until a medical professional or friend explained it to them.4 This lack of public awareness, combined with ingrained cultural ideas about what constitutes ‘real’ sexual violence has oftentimes been an obstacle for CERT’s campaign.
Have there been any surprises or setbacks in the campaign?
So many people out there assume that stealthing is already illegal in Scotland and so we can get a lot of angry comments saying that we are wrong, and we haven’t done our research. I think this is because there is already specific legislation in England and Wales regarding stealthing, and the fact that it isn’t categorically a specific criminal act can be quite shocking, so some people just assume that we must be wrong. This can be pretty demotivating and sometimes upsetting – people can be super mean over social media! But I’m very proud of our teams who are so enthusiastic and hard-working and don’t let these comments get in the way of CERT’s work. Our comprehensive research paper about stealthing (the first of its kind in the UK!) includes an in-depth legal analysis that we point people towards in these circumstances.
What’s a myth about Stealthing that you wish you could demystify?
That it only occurs in heterosexual relationships and exclusively affects women. This is not the case – stealthing can happen to anyone and it is not dependent on gender identity nor on one’s sexuality. While there are patterns of power and oppression in general sexual violence statistics, perpetrators and victim-survivors can be part of any demographic group.
However, the campaign against Stealthing is not just for those in CERT, but for anyone and everyone who wants to get involved. In fact, it’s imperative that we do.
It’s super important for as many people as possible to sign our petition so that we can prove to the Scottish Government that we have immense public backing; you can find the link to this on our website and social media accounts! We also think that for this campaign to fully serve the public, we must take a communal approach to our campaign. As such, we always welcome anyone who would like to get involved, whether through aiding our campaigns team or doing something more creative like making artwork or holding an event. As always, send us a DM on our Instagram; we are all ears!
The work towards contraceptive reform and education in Scotland is a continuous one of learning, informing, campaigning, and listening, and it’s a duty that CERT has taken incredibly seriously, and with passion. As well as progressing its ‘Stealthing Campaign’ with the launch of its petition and roundtable discussions with Scotland’s MSPs, CERT has continued its research into other areas of interest and has gone on to launch a branch of CERT Glasgow.
As CERT looks forward to 2023, what is it that you hope to achieve by the end of the year?
So much exciting stuff is happening! We are enjoying having more events that are open to the public and getting CERT’s information out there. We’re also super excited to release some of our research onto our website, potentially publishing some of our work and looking into the complete projects to see if there is scope for lobbying. Moreover, we are still working on establishing our brand-new branch CERT Glasgow and look forward to when the team is fully formed and producing research! Of course, we are continuing to focus on our campaign and have recently recruited some fantastic people for our campaigning team, so we are really excited to see where it goes!
Who knows, maybe by the end of 2023 stealthing will have specific legislation in Scotland…
It is only with organisations like CERT Scotland that work can be done not only to improve and diversify education surrounding sex, relationships, and contraception but implement these changes in the policy itself. Furthermore, with Scotland often leading the way on advances in education and issues surrounding sexuality, identity and sexual violence, who’s to say that what CERT achieves in Scotland can’t be achieved in other countries, in the U.K. and beyond?
You can find out more about CERT Scotland on their website: https://www.certscotland.com/
1 Professor Simon Fischel, <https://schoolsweek.co.uk/teaching-contraception-without-teaching-conception-fails-young-people/>, 8 Feb 2020, accessed 20.01.23
2 Issy Cole-Hamilton,<https://www.ssc.education.ed.ac.uk/resources/vi&multi/coleh.html#:~:text=2%20Sex%20Education%20in%20Scotland,However%2C%20guidance%20does%20exists>., accessed 20.01.23
3 CERT Scotland, ‘Contraceptive and Education Reform Team: Stealthing Policy Recommendations’, 2021, accessed 20.01.23, <https://www.certscotland.com/_files/ugd/b8444e_abdc9b6f0dcb42b6a1443a4420e0eab3.pdf>
4 Sophie Maullin, ‘Stealthing isn’t a ‘sex trend’. It’s sexual assault – and it happened to me’ in The Guardian, May 2017, accessed 20.01.23
Article by Sylvie Dulson. Featured image provided by Sophie Pywell. Special thanks to Kate Astbury and Lucy Wellman for their time and insights!