A growing national #MeToo movement and furor over the controversial confirmation of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court after an accusation of sexual assault in high school have sparked questions about whether schools teach students enough about sexual consent.
Kavanaugh’s case — in which he denied the allegation by Christine Blasey Ford that he sexually assaulted her when the two were in high school — hits close to home for many teens. Some say adults shouldn’t be quick to dismiss youthful indiscretions, that schools need to teach what constitutes sexual consent, and that there should be harsher consequences for those who commit sexual offenses.
“As I was watching the (Senate) hearings, one defense of the candidate I heard many times, both on social media and from elected representatives, is that it was OK because the alleged assaults took place in high school,” said Jackson Teetor, 17, a senior at Larkin High School in Elgin. “As a high schooler, I find it horrifying that anyone could be so quick to dismiss any act like this because the perpetrator was in high school. I want to be held accountable for my actions and I want my peers to be held accountable.”
Teetor, student adviser to the Elgin Area School District U-46 school board, challenged officials at the state’s second-largest school district to make it clear sexual violence will not be tolerated and to raise more awareness about consent.
“In my entire high school career, my school has not had any mandatory education on consent, appropriate conduct, or how to report inappropriate incidents,” he said. “All of my education has been from outside sources: parents, books, videos online. There is really no centralized curriculum on what we should be teaching … so we don’t all agree on what is and what isn’t consent.”
According to The Center for American Progress, 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education in public schools. Ten states and the District of Columbia require sexual consent to be taught as part of sex education classes — state laws and education standards mention “healthy relationships,” “sexual assault,” or “consent” in sex education programs, the center reported.
In August, Illinois became the latest to require education about sexual consent — parties agree to engage in sexual activity. Students in sixth through 12th grades now must be taught about sexual harassment in the workplace and on college campuses, and how to identify sexual harassment or sexual assault at work or at school as part of the curriculum. Previous instruction focused on teaching students about not making or how to reject unwanted sexual advances, usually left to the teachers’ discretion.