I learned about consent when I learned about sexual assault. I can’t remember exactly when I learned about sexual assault, but it was definitely a while after that banana-condom demonstration, after my formal sexual-education was completed.
Do you teach a child manners after he is fully verbal? No, “please” and “thank you” are part of the vocabulary that dribbles out of a child’s mouth, right after “mama.” So, why do we preach consent years after sexual education, if it is even preached at all?
When we teach kids about consent, we take away a common excuse that many attackers often use as a default. “I didn’t know she wasn’t consenting” can often be heard as justification for the assault, but in reality, the signs of someone being forced into a sexual act are pretty easy to pick up on. It is easy to see if someone you are engaging in a sexual act with is uncomfortable or averse. Despite this, attackers still explain away the assault by blaming their lack of knowledge about consent.
By teaching consent early on, we take away this weak excuse. Attackers can no longer use ignorance as a justification and instead are forced to recognize the real reason the attack occurred: the need for power and control.
Sex and consent should go hand in hand. When you learn about safe sex, a staple in most high schools, you should learn what consent means, why it is important and what it looks like. Why is there not a SHAPE in every high school? How are we allowing these men to reach the age of 19, 20, 21, still thinking that forcing yourself upon someone is okay.
In August of 2015, Illinois signed the “Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act” which states that all higher education institutions shall adopt a comprehensive policy concerning sexual violence, domestic violence, and stalking.” While this is a step in the right direction, by the time men and women get to college, most of their sexual education is complete; they are on their own, with no health teacher behind them. Many have already had sex and the way they treat a sexual partner may already be imbedded in them.
We need to start earlier. In a time of bipartisan turmoil, this is something both parties can agree on. In light of recent events on campus, I am saddened to think it is too late for many, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to make future college campuses safer for everyone. We have the right to go to a party sans fear of sexual assault. Let’s make that possible.