GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Lawmakers in Lansing are looking at requiring schools to offer education about what constitutes consent in an effort to prevent sexual assaults.
The idea has been before the state Legislature before and failed to become law, but that was before some of the high-profile cases of sexual assault that have dominated headlines over the past year.
“By the time individual students are getting to colleges, they do not have a shared language around what is consent and that’s really scary,” said Tara Aday, director of prevention and education for Safe Haven Ministries, which offers help and education for abused women and children.
Senate Bill 270 would require that, in addition to teaching about sexually transmitted diseases and emphasizing that abstinence is the safest route, students learn about the concept of consent in sexual situations.
Emily Nyquist is a sophomore at Northview High School and a member of Young Leaders Against Violence, a group of students who are raising awareness about sexual assault.
“No one really knows what consent is. I told one of my friends, ‘Yeah, I’m doing an interview about consent’ and they didn’t know what that was,” she said.
“For some people, it’s confusing all the different layers of it, that consent is not only saying yes one time but saying yes every single time and understanding that consent can be withdrawn at any time,” she continued.
That’s why state Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, said she signed on to co-sponsor the so-called “Yes Means Yes” bill.
“That age group as well as college students also report that they really don’t have a good grasp of what constitutes consent and what it really means and it means different things to different people,” Brinks said. “High school graduates who do not go to college are at even higher risk of sexual assault than college students.”
She said the lack of education is a factor in the epidemic of sexual assault.
“If students have never been given a space to create shared understanding, no wonder why there can be confusion,” Aday said.
The last time similar legislation was introduced, it never made it out of committee.
“We certainly have a different makeup of folks in the Legislature and so I’m hopeful that they will have been listening for the last few years,” Brinks said. “It really starts a lot earlier. We need to start talking with children, young children as well, about respect for other people and about how to communicate with other people your wishes are and are not.”
The YWCA of West Central Michigan, which provides services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, provided 24 Hour News 8 with this statement:
“Culturally, we’re taught that the absence of resistance is consent. In truth, consent is much more. It is, in fact, nothing less than robust affirmation, based on intentionality, mutual respect, knowledge, and capacity. Senate Bill 270 codifies that truth, linking it directly to a true understanding of health and sexuality. If passed, this would begin erasing the incredibly harmful, long-held idea that the lack of protest allows one person’s demand to outweigh the wishes of another — a belief that continues to feed the epidemic of sexual assault and dating violence in our community.”
The hope is that education will spark change.
“If I say no to something, I want that to be respected or if I say yes to something, I want that to be respected and doing that in an environment where peers can be a part of that conversation, I think that is going to create cultural shifts,” Aday said.
“I don’t think it’s the ending to this problem. I think it’s just one of the steps we have to take to be able to start to decrease this epidemic of sexual assault,” Nyquist said.
Safe Haven Ministries: 616.453.6664