Sexual harassment and sexual violence are significant problems in the United States. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetime.1 Sexual violence and harassment can lead to lasting and harmful effects on the victims, victims’ family and friends, and the community. However, teaching what sexual consent is can prevent sexual violence from occurring and increase awareness and understanding of this public health issue.
In the United States there are just 24 states and Washington, D.C. that require sexual education to be taught in public schools, and Missouri is unfortunately not one of those states. Currently, sexual education in Missouri is optional; the school districts who do provide sexual education can decide which curriculum to use (if any). In July, Gov. Mike Parsons signed a bill which amends Missouri State Statute 170.015, the statute that regulates sexuality education in public schools. Starting in August of 2018, sexual consent, sexual harassment, and sexual violence were all added as topics that should be covered if a school provides sexual health education. The following definitions were included in the newly signed amendment:
- Sexual consent- is a freely given agreement to the conduct at issue by a competent person. An expression of lack of consent through words or conduct means there is no consent. Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from the use of force, threat of force, or placing another person in fear does not constitute consent. A current or previous dating or social or sexual relationship by itself or the manner of dress of the person involved with the accused in the conduct at issue shall not constitute consent.
- Sexual harassment- is any uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate as mean causing or attempting to cause another to engage involuntarily in any sexual act by force, threat of force, duress, or without that person’s consent.
- Sexual violence- is causing or attempting to cause another to engage involuntarily in any sexual act by force, threat of force, duress, or without that person’s consent.
It is important to teach about sexual consent and healthy relationships and these changes to the state statute encourage schools to include these sexual health topics in their curriculum. According to a study of 1,300 middle school children, 43% of the students surveyed reported being victims of sexual harassment.2 In addition, 1 in 3 female rape victims experienced rape between the ages of 11-17.3 With many children and teenagers experiencing sexual harassment or violence, it is essential to start sexual health education and prevention programs as early as possible to stop harm before it starts. The CDC has published guidance and technical support, entitled STOP SV, for this reason. This online resource details necessary strategies to prevent sexual violence.4 Requiring schools to include consent, sexual harassment, and sexual violence in their curriculum can lead to fewer sex-related crimes by increasing awareness and understanding of the issue at an early age. The new amendment to Missouri State Statute 170.015 will lead to positive health changes in Missouri by highlighting the importance of sexual consent and healthy relationships to adolescents as part of their health education.
This is exactly why the Associated Students of the University of Missouri (ASUM), a student run advocacy group that lobbies in Jefferson City on behalf of the roughly 72,000 students in the University of Missouri System (Missouri S&T, UMSL, UMKC, and Mizzou), proposed this amendment to the state statute. Each year, the ASUM Board of Directors sets the legislative agenda for the year and then lobbies for legislation in Jefferson City.
Being on a college campus, it is difficult to ignore the problem of sexual assault or harassment because it is so prevalent. As student leaders began looking further into the issue, they noticed some alarming statistics that pointed to this being, not only a college campus issue, but a national issue as well. One of the most alarming college statistics dealt with the “Red Zone” (the time between the start of school and Thanksgiving break when about 1 in 5 women will experience assault or attempted assault). While colleges are making an effort to educate their students, it often comes too little and too late. The changes to Missouri State Statute 170.015 aim to provide consent education during high school. This not only helps educate students before they get to college, but it also helps educate those who do not attend college. ASUM is hopeful this legislation will better educate students about consent and reduce the number of incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence across the state.
Agencies and advocates from across the state joined ASUM in supporting the revisions to the state statute. As the change goes into effect in August, Teen Pregnancy & Prevention Partnership continues to partner with educators and school districts to ensure that high quality lesson plans and additional resources are available for teachers and students. Below is a list with links to these resources:
Advocates for Youth offers a free comprehensive curriculum, Rights, Respect and Responsibility, that can be downloaded at their website AdvocatesForYouth.org. Here are some examples of the lesson plans that you can get from Advocates for Youth related to consent, sexual harassment and sexual violence:
Lesson 3: My Space, Your Space- Kindergarten
Lesson 3: Understanding Boundaries- Grade 6
Lesson 7: Warning Signs: Understanding Sexual Abuse and Assault- Grade 8
Lesson 3: It Wasn’t My Fault- Grade 9
Lesson 2: My Boundaries- Grade 11
In addition, TPPP has created fact sheets which can be downloaded and shared to ensure schools, teachers and parents understand the changes to the state statute and the impact of those changes. You can download them here or contact TPPP for electronic copies.
References:(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] (2018). Sexual Violence Prevention. Retreieved from, https://www.cdc.gov/features/sexualviolence/index.html(2) Espelage, D.L. (2016). Sexual harassment common among middle school children, study finds. Retrieved from, https://phys.org/news/2016-12-sexual-common-middle-school-children.html#jCp(3) Smith SG, Chen J, Basile KC, Gilbert LK, Merrick MT, Patel N, Walling M, Jain A. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010-2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centersfor Disease Control and Prevention.(4) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] (2018). Sexual Violence. Retrieved from, https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/SV-Prevention-Technical-Package.pdf