Recent years have seen a lot of national attention paid to the campus rape epidemic—something young women have had to contend with for decades. Activists like Emma Sulkowicz, Andrea Pino and Wagatwe Wanjuki have effectively mobilized at their universities to raise awareness of the administrative shortcomings that allow rape culture on campuses to flourish. Even White House initiatives like the It’s On Us campaign are pushing to hold perpetrators as well as universities accountable.
California State Sens. Kevin de León (D) and Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) recognize problematic attitudes towards sexual assault form before young people even set foot on college campuses. That’s why earlier this year they introduced a bill that would combat sexual violence in the state’s high schools by requiring them to include curricula about rape and consent in health classes. The bill has just been passed unanimously by the California Senate and will go to the California Assembly for a vote.
De León said in a press release:
As it stands, we are not doing nearly enough. We can and must educate the youth of our state, especially our young men, about affirmative consent and healthy relationships. This bill represents the next step in the fight to change behavior toward young women.
This pending legislation comes on the heels of another bill that was also introduced by De León last year and was recently enacted. The affirmative consent law was the “first application of the ‘yes means yes’ concept in the country.” Rather than depending on the popular mantra “no means no,” consent under this legislation requires an “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” It helps to combat the harmful idea that the survivor must have actively resisted in order for rape to have occurred and gives a more survivor-oriented agenda for preventing sexual assault at colleges. This new bill takes those same notions to the state’s high schools, stating that high schoolers are the “most vulnerable population” and that educating them is “paramount to reducing the number of incidents.”
Though the language of the consent education bill isn’t very specific, it mandates that if a California high school has a health class requirement in order to graduate that the health class should include a course on sexual coercion. Teachers would need to instruct students on the same affirmative consent standard that was established in De León’s previous bill.
Sofie Karasek, a student at the University of California, Berkeley and co-founder of End Rape on Campus, believes high school students need to have more exposure to the idea of consent. She told the Ms. Blog:
It’s easier to change the culture if we start early. We need to establish that framework of consent before young people even get to college so that they can integrate it into their lives.
With women from age 18 to 24 experiencing the highest rates of sexual assault compared to other age groups, it’s never too soon for young people to learn about consent.
Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.