A Missouri representative is proposing that high school students learn about sexual harassment, violence, and consent as part of sexual education. Her legislation will be heard Tuesday night by the House Committee on Children and Families.
Sikeston Republican Holly Rehder said the idea behind House Bill 2234 was brought to her by students at the University of Missouri who said they wish they had received such an education. They believe teaching high school students about those subjects could prevent situations that can cause life-changing harm, and Rehder agrees.
“What was so fascinating to me was you have these college students – two girls, is who initially brought it to me – that said, ‘We wish we would’ve had this,’” said Rehder. “’We don’t know how they were in high school or what their reputation is back home and then we all get lumped in together and we’re at a party, or we’re at an event, or walking to the car, or whatever … you need to know how to speak up for yourself, set those boundaries, and you also need to know how to not cross them.’”
Numerous cases have put sexual harassment, sexual violence, and consent in the public spotlight. One of those is the case of long-time USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar. He was sentenced late last month to up to 175 years in prison for abusing young female gymnasts. At least one of the women who gave a victim impact statement before his sentencing has written a letter in support of HB 2234.
Amanda Thomashow tells lawmakers she realized many of those Nassar assaulted didn’t know they were being abused, at least not at first, and trusted the doctor.
She writes, “more than anything I keep coming back to one particular question: How can we prevent such a tragedy from happening ever again? I have repeated this question in my head, over and over, searching for a way to save others from similar evils. I know there are many answers and I know there is no easy solution when it comes to sexual assault. However, I also know one thing with absolute certainty; we must add consent and sexual violence to basic sexual education curriculum. We need to equip young people with knowledge to protect and empower them, and House Bill 2234 does just that.”
HB 2234 would expand Missouri law on what must be included in sex education materials so that they cover sexual harassment, sexual violence, and consent. It would also seek to define those terms in relation to sex education.
It would define “consent” as, “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.”
HB 2234 defines “sexual harassment” as, “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate,” and defines “sexual violence” as, “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.”
Missouri school districts are not required to have sexual education as part of their curriculum. The bill would require that these new areas be included for those that do.
Rehder said she looks at the issue not just as a legislator but as a mother of three.
“I think that’s the prism that we need to look at it through – what would we want for our children? What do we want them to know and be prepared for before they go into college,” said Rehder. “Or not college – before they go into the workplace and you have people over you. I think that these are just very important things to know before you’re thrown out into the world.”
The hearing on HB 2234 is Tuesday at 5 p.m. in House Hearing Room 7 in the Missouri State Capitol basement.
Representative Rehder said she wants students to learn how to protect themselves and to respect others:
“I want them to know some clear cut signals and how to make those clear cut signals. I think it makes a lot of sense. I think it’s a small – doesn’t cost the state anything but could do a world of good.”