Bring the Affirmative Consent Curriculum into High School Education

Sophia Zhu ’18
Assistant Opinions Editor

California has recently passed a bill into law that requires affirmative consent curriculum to be taught in the state’s high schools. The affirmative consent, or so-called “yes means yes” standard of sexual consent, has been adopted by California and many other states in recent years, which replacing the original “no means no” standard.

Before, the accuser in a sexual assault lawsuit was usually required to give evidence of a clear lack of consent. Questions like “Did you explicitly say, ‘no’?” used to be asked to convince a jury of a lack of consent. However, it is possible that the victims were under influence of alcohol or drugs, or confused or threatened by the perpetrator leaving them unable to actively refuse the sexual act.

The new affirmative consent has effectively shifted burden of proof from the accuser to the accused and encourages those who perform sexual acts to seek their partners’ voluntary agreement and think about the consequences.

As a “yes means yes” standard spreads among colleges in different states as the way of judging accusations of sexual violence, this information remains unclear to many people, especially to the younger high school students. Teaching the students how to draw a line between healthy sexual relationship and undesired sexual assault becomes extremely necessary. Humans are social animals who need rules to have a functional and safe society, but our society is especially bad at sharing information about sex with younger generations.

I absolutely agree that schools should take on this essential role and teach students what consent is, how and when to give consent and what consequences could follow in a sexual relationship. This information is not easy to grasp. There are many blurred boundaries and ambiguous concepts, but they are not less important than other traditional curriculums. Consent and sex are important topics to understand for life in general, and the earlier the students understand, the fewer troubles they may run into later in life.

According to a 2015 white paper by the Association of Title IX Administrators, one in five college women report experiencing physical abuse, sexual abuse or threats of physical violence during their education. The majority of these cases happen in their first year at colleges. Evidence shows young adults are the most vulnerable group in cases of sexual violence and high schools currently miss out on teaching crucial lessons about sex and consent. It is vital that students know about consent going into college or any other path of their lives. This mandatory education policy is expected to make a difference in these depressing statistics.

Although the support for consent education is at an all-time high, it is still controversial whether using “yes means yes” standard to view accusation of sexual abuse is legitimate. Many critics worry that the rights of the accused would be largely violated.

For example, the allegation of sexual assault at Amherst College in 2013 that caused the accused student to be expelled was considered false after text messages were uncovered one year later as new evidence. Will the accused be unfairly assumed guilty in the first place? Is the school judiciary system incapable of detecting the lies of the accuser in cases of so-called “regret means rape”? The answers remain unclear, as facts appear to support both sides. There is no doubt, however, that the introduction of affirmative consent education will help young adults to be more informed about sexual relationship and curb sexual misconduct caused by ignorance or negligence.

In addition, there is a cultural shift behind the new California law. Women have long been viewed as passive and feeble. Many women are socialized to meet the cultural expectation for them to be entertainers for men. Women are required to behave and talk in certain ways all because men might be sexually engage with women if tempted. If men are unable to control themselves, then the fault lies with the “indecent” women’s side. This is the presumption behind the “no means no” standard of consent.

Now the sexual act is viewed as one involving mutual agreement and clear understandings. Female bodies are not property – a lack of a “no” does not signify positive consent. Finding convincing evidence in giving consent is not always easy. But at least the students receiving the consent education will be able to tell what constitutes a healthy relationship.

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