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Sex Education is Sexual Violence Prevention

Three bills making their way through the state legislature would require schools offering sexuality education to incorporate information about consent, sexual harassment and sexual violence in course materials. Currently, schools that teach sex education are required to teach students eight guidelines: abstinence; sexually transmitted infections; medically factual information about contraception; emotional and psychological consequences of sexual activity; conflict management; financial responsibility; and online/digital safety. House Bills 2234 and 2285, and Senate Bill 788 would add a guideline on consent, sexual harassment, and sexual violence while also defining the terms.

The proposed legislation defines these three terms:

  • Sexual Violence: 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 Harassment: Uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate.
  • Consent: 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.

Representative Holly Rehder, Sikston, worked with students from the Associated Students of the University of Missouri to write HB 2234. “There’s a lot of different kinds of sexual harassment and assault that we just aren’t educating our high school-aged students on or even college-aged,” said Chelsea Spence, one of the students who worked with Representative Rehder.

MCADSV testified in support of these bills. “With everything that’s happened with #MeToo in the fall and the public awareness about sexual harassment, we think it’s really timely to expand the statute to really be thinking about how we can provide more information to high school students,” said Jennifer Carter Dochler, MCADSV public policy director, in a recent interview.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over 42% of women who have experienced sexual violence were first raped before the age of 18. Consent and sexual violence education are more complex than simply “no means no” and “an enthusiast yes.” Sexual violence and sexuality education are both public health issues, and information about both can be taught to middle and high school students in developmentally appropriate ways. There are many advocates and educators at domestic & sexual violence agencies in Missouri already working with schools to promote healthy relationships and sexuality to students. Expanding state statute for sexuality education can help to bolster comprehensive approaches to prevent sexual harassment and violence.

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