EDITORIAL: Yes to consent education in the US

While “no means no” seems like an easy concept to catch on to, student advocates are suggesting education on this rule should begin in kindergarten. 

As reported in a Huffington Post article, to combat the epidemic of sexual assault in college, student activists attending San Diego State University and UC Berkeley and Santa Barbara recently made a smart proposal for K-12 schools: consent education. In acknowledging that the meaning of the word “consent” is often misconstrued, this type of education would teach students not only what it means in a sexual sense, but also how it applies to verbal harassment and personal space.

As one activist noted, general sex education is lacking in quality across the board. Given the current state of sexual assault among college students in the U.S., this proposal would benefit not only California schools, but also those throughout the country, especially in Florida.

Regular sex education in Florida is already not particularly comprehensive. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the only requirements in the state are that the content is age appropriate and that students can opt out. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement to include consent education. 

The scope of the problem is far-reaching. Last July, a Washington Post analysis determined that 55 percent of approximately 1,570 higher education institutions with a minimum of 1,000 students had at least one reported forcible sex offense on their campuses in 2012. Additionally, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, women between the ages of 18 and 24 were more likely to be a victim of rape or sexual assault than women of other age groups.

As far as consent goes, California is the only state to have a “yes means yes” law, as reported in the Huffington Post article, which requires sexual partners to confirm their agreement to sex. New York may also introduce a similar law in the state’s private colleges.

Despite consent being something that should seem quite clear, having such laws in the books to begin with demonstrates the uncertainty about what consensual sex actually is.   

From understanding the importance of “keep(ing) your hands to yourself,” as one activist mentioned, to knowing how consent works in a relationship, bringing consent education into classrooms wouldn’t be a bad idea considering it’s already necessary to have a White House task force for sexual assault prevention.

To speak for the inability of some to understand when no means no, a recent study published in the journal Violence and Gender reported that one in three men in college would force a woman into sex if they wouldn’t get in trouble for it, without seeing the action as rape. When blatantly asked if they would rape a woman if they wouldn’t get in trouble, 13.6 percent said they would.

As the authors of the study acknowledged, the different outcomes depended on whether or not the term “rape” was described in the question or used directly in it. Clearly, for men at that age to not understand if an act is rape or not demonstrates the country’s need for a program to teach such a common-sense concept.  

Last fall, USF piloted an online course called Haven to educate students on sexual assault and bystander intervention, and according to the Miami Herald, the university switched to another course called Campus Clarity, which delves into alcohol and drugs, for the spring.

While sexual assault could still occur regardless of how well people are educated in consent, primary and secondary schools taking the reins on such a widespread problem in the country could potentially reduce the chances of it happening if students fully understand that “no” is never a suggestion.