College is too late to start teaching students about sexual assault, by Jessica Valenti, via The Guardian:
There are some essential life skills that high schools know they have to teach students. That’s why most offer classes like woodshop, home economics and drivers education. So I have to ask: Given that we’re keen to teach teenagers the basics they need to function in society, why do we still have no mandated education around rape?
Expecting high schoolers to fully grasp what sexual assault is without comprehensive education is ridiculous. Politicians still routinely demonstrate their ignorance around rape, the FBI only changed its outdated definition of sexual assault in 2011, and even the courts regularly muck up rape cases.
And while it’s wonderful that more and more universities are creating sexual assault orientations and mandating courses on consent, by the time young people reach college (assuming they go at all) it’s often too late. Nearly half of American teenagers are sexually active by the time they’re 17 years old and 44% of sexual assault victims are under 18 years old.
Earlier this month, Senators Claire McCaskill and Tim Kaine introduced the Teach Safe Relationships Act, which would mandate sexual assault and violence prevention education in high school. But we need more than a guarantee that rape will be talked about – we need a national standard for how it’s discussed. Victim-blaming, confusion around what the definition of rape is, and terrible ideas about how to stop assault all show that there’s too much misinformation around sexual assault.
We can’t have abstinence-only education enthusiasts teaching the topic, for example. Rape victims – including kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart – have said that receiving abstinence only education worsened their feelings of shame after being assaulted. (Curricula frequently teaches that young women are ‘dirty’ or ‘used’ after sex.) Some of the curricula even directly blames victims: In one popular textbook, for example, students are asked, “How do some people say NO with their words, but YES with their actions or clothing?
Considering the full-on backlash to ‘yes means yes’ laws and standards at universities, I don’t expect that a push to mandate similar education at the high school level would be met without opposition. But rape is not a talking point or a thought experiment. And now is the time – when ending sexual assault is a central part of the national conversation – that activists and legislators should be pushing for the most progressive, results oriented curricula possible for teens.
Young people need a clear understanding of what sexual assault is through a curriculum devised by experts, a comprehensive explanation of enthusiastic consent, and a roadmap for how to deal with a culture that victim-blames and is generally decades behind where it should be.
If most states require sex education for teens, and we continue the fight for medically accurate, non-religiously based sex education – we can certainly do the same for education on rape. If we can manage to have nearly every state pass an anti-bullying law and mandate education on the topic, we surely can gather up the same kind of support to end sexual assault and raise awareness. The question isn’t one of ability, but of will. Yes, it will be controversial and it will be an uphill battle. But if we want to truly stop rape before it happens and arm young people with the knowledge they need to deal with the reality of sexual assault – this is our only option.