Why schools need to expand their consent curriculum

December 11, 2017 — by Harshini Ramaswamy

In a typical Hollywood movie, the protagonists lock eyes across the room, slowly move near each other and form an intimate connection within the first few strands of conversation. Their subsequent physical interaction is wordless and magnetizing, drawing sighs from a jealous audience as they witness the sparks of a new relationship.

Unfortunately, reality is much less romantic.

Take the infamous “Notebook” scene, for example, where Noah and Allie confess their love for each other and passionately kiss.

But what if Noah just wanted to kiss and stop there? What if Allie wanted to go further? How did they know whether the other felt OK with each progression in intimacy?

Of course, communicating their desires beforehand would have been awkward for moviegoers to watch. The heat of the moment would be lost if the actors initiated conversations about their boundaries or comfort level.

Equally, the line between sexual harassment and “pursuing” an individual can be a difficult one to decipher in real life. An easy solution would be to talk about any issues before moments of intimacy, but culturally, those conversations rarely happen.

With recent events uncovering celebrity sexual assaults and harassment, it is more vital now than ever to change the culture and start having these conversations, and the groundwork should begin in high school or earlier.

Although the school does cover consent in the required freshman health elective, health teacher Liz Alves believes there is “more room and education” in higher grades. In addition, she has observed some freshmen are not emotionally mature enough for a meaningful discussion about sex.

“Some of the freshmen aren’t equipped to handle this conversation,” Alves said. “Their eyes glaze over when we say the word ‘sex.’ I think extending the curriculum is definitely something to look into especially as they get older and start to encounter more issues where consent is involved.”

Clarifying the definition of consent is extremely relevant right now, since many rape cases center around its conflicting interpretations. In California, the legal definition requires individuals to affirmatively and voluntarily engage in the sexual act.

It also emphasizes that a lack of resistance or protest, in cases of unconscious or incoherent victims, does not translate as consent. Although most rape cases aren’t the result of unclear communication, rape convictions can often rely on legally defining new or pre-existing definitions of consent.

Addressing the language surrounding sexual harassment, consent and rape cases is equally pertinent. The carelessness taken with language and actions contribute to a “rape culture,” one that normalizes sexual violence and protects abusers rather than victims.

While clarity of language and increasing understanding about consent are extremely vital, the curriculum must also address misconceptions and issues surrounding sex, like alcohol consumption. Adolescents and adults alike can become confused in a setting where alcohol is involved, as impaired judgment can result in messy lines between implied and given consent.

We can address the effect of rape culture, starting here in our school.

Initiating conversations through platforms such as Speak Up for Change week, administration-led seminars and individual assemblies throughout high school are all imperative steps to extending consent curriculum and preparing students for their lives beyond high school.

At its core, consent is how we communicate our interests and set our boundaries; learning this self-autonomy is applicable to all communities. Understanding how to give and receive consent will help both adolescents and adults protect their bodily rights, giving them the confidence to speak up for themselves and discouraging them from violating others’ rights.

To view the curriculum inspirations for the piece, visit link, link, link, link. To view the Stanford victim’s powerful impact statement, visit link.