Only yes means yes.
Sexual assault is not a stranger to ETHS, and students must be taught exactly what it means to give consent and why disregarding it is a serious problem.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which makes it the perfect time to help students understand when consent is being given and when it is not, and why it is never acceptable to ignore someone’s lack of consent. It’s also a good time to bring up the fact that we need more education on the topic of consent and sexual assault in school.
According to Amy Gonzales, health teacher, since students may be making decisions about being sexually active in high school, it’s important to be communicative and understand when someone says yes or when they cannot say yes. It’s important to create awareness of when someone is consenting.
Consent is sometimes simplified to “no means no.” However, consent is being redefined, as people are now realizing that there are times when consent cannot be given or people are pressured into consenting. This change is something students need to understand. People must realize that consent is not simply a lack of resistance. If they don’t understand this, it’s more likely that people will assume consent when it is not given.
Students are drowned with phrases like “Don’t let it happen to you,” or “Just say no.” These ideas are toxic and end up blaming victims of sexual assault for not standing up for themselves. However, the fault is absolutely never on the victims. These phrases are irrelevant because sometimes victims are unable to say no, or the fact that they are saying no is sometimes disregarded. Saying “don’t let it happen to you” implies that there may be something victims could have done to stop sexual assault, when in reality there isn’t.
Students must learn that if it’s not “yes,” it’s “no,” and that consent can be retracted at any time. Consent is not owed and should not be expected. Just because you got consent from someone once doesn’t necessarily mean you have it again. It’s also important to note that when someone consents they can take it back at any time.
Ignoring a lack of consent is not only illegal, it is very damaging for survivors. According to the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, there is at least a 50% chance that sexual assault survivors will have post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as being very likely to develop situational depression or anxiety.
People often make the argument that boys will be boys and that they can’t be held accountable for their actions if a girl is dressing or acting provocatively. With this argument, it makes sense to teach girls to prevent rape and sexual assault by acting or dressing differently. It seems like an easier fix, and it seems very logical to most people. It’s something that is easier to teach in schools
However, this argument is simply incorrect, as well as too heteronormative and gender normative. There is nothing survivors can be held responsible for when it comes to sexual assault. We need to teach people not to rape instead of teaching people how not to be raped.
Our sophomore health classes touch on these topics and we recently had healthy relationship seminars, but those were only around four days. Students should have something yearly to help them understand sexual assault and consent, and something that will make a lasting impression. The healthy relationship seminars were a step in the right direction, but we need longer periods of education on this topic. Consent and sexual assault could also be discussed in highly populated classes like Psychology. Gonzales says that this is a discussion that needs to continue to be brought up, even throughout college. This will allow it to stick with people.
Furthermore, curriculums that promote victim-blaming need to be changed. Earlier this year, many students taking Contemporary Adult Life expressed complaints over the fact that their classes asked them what a victim could have done differently in order to prevent being raped. Gonzales says that these ideas may be taught because that is often the way society works. Students are being taught by authority figures that it is their fault if they are sexually assaulted. This may be common in our society, but that does not make it okay to promote these toxic ideas in classes in a school where sexual assault is happening, or any school for that matter.
If we promote healthy ideas in school and teach students about consent, survivors won’t be blamed and may feel more comfortable coming forward. Survivors should under no circumstances feel guilty. In addition, if we teach consent correctly and teach students about boundaries and the consequences of sexually assaulting someone, we may see a decrease in these incidents. It’s not up to survivors. It’s up to teachers to spread the right ideas.