One in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have experienced rape at some point in their life. Statistically, this means every single person knows a survivor of sexual assault no matter their political views, religious beliefs, geographical location, sexuality, or ethnicity. Consent education is still seen as a partisan issue even though everyone knows a survivor.
Before starting the discussion, there are some definitions that are necessary to talk about this subject. Sexual assault is an umbrella term for any kind of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without consent. Rape is penetration any orifice of the body anally, vaginally, or orally without consent. Individual laws differ state to state but those are the federal definitions.
Sexual assault and consent education typically fall under sex education when taught in schools. There are many issues regarding consent education, but the ones that have the most impact are untrained teachers, low budgets, and unwilling parents. People see consent education as a liberal want and not a societal need.
Teaching about sexual assault has the potential to be traumatic for students and teachers. If teachers are not trained properly, they may not know how to talk about it without triggering survivors. If it is not taught correctly, students may come out believing rape myths and may not understand what they were taught. The best case scenario would be that the school or state has a set curriculum that teaches students about sexual assault and dating violence. The worst case scenario is an untrained gym teacher outing survivors. Creating a national curriculum and training teachers in trauma and facilitation can take out many risks involved. Having a social worker at the school or a trained counselor can be helpful for students or teachers who react poorly to the lesson. Unfortunately, that is not possible to have at every school and in more politically conservative areas the education budget is smaller and sex education is usually the first to go.
Only 24 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education, and 20 states and the District of Columbia require “medically, factually or technically [correct]” sex education. In the new budget, President Trump put almost $277 million dollars into abstinence-only education through 2027. Teaching sex ed and consent is important yet abstinence has been the go to for conservative politicians. This new budget will lower the rates of consent education because even less funding will be going towards teaching. Abstinence only education is directly linked to higher teenage pregnancy rates and higher STD and STI rates yet politicians still urge states to defund consent education programs. The lack of funding from the government coming to publicly funded institutions reinforces the idea that consent education is not necessary if the funds aren’t there.
Parents are an issue in the discussion about sexual assault with middle and high school aged kids. It is a tough topic, but even if they believe that their child doesn’t need it, they should not have the right to sign their child out of the class. Many of the students who need it most aren’t getting the education because it isn’t mandatory and they grew up looking at sexual assault a certain way. Parents don’t know how to talk to their kids because they didn’t learn about it themselves, they may unknowingly embrace the stigma of shame surrounding survivors of sexual assault. Based on a parent’s religious or political views they may oppose sex education. The GOP’s platform states that they want to replace “family planning” with abstinence-only education. For some people, this is just a political view that they have rather than a health decision.
Consent education is necessary for everyone because there are survivors in all groups of people. The first person a survivor tells directly impacts their healing process. If the friend responds with, “I believe you” they will react infinitely better than, “you shouldn’t talk about it” or, “how do we know you’re not lying?” Many people don’t know the legal definition of consent. First response, bystander intervention, and survivor support are all things taught in consent education. These are things that could save the lives of 1 in 4 girls or 1 in 6 boys, so why is it so difficult to teach?