Consent and a condom

The need to prevent rape culture in high school

Kenzie Knapp

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My sex ed curriculum drastically changed from elementary to high school. I remember how grossed-out I was when first learning about periods in fifth grade. I remember blowing up condom balloons in eighth grade and talking about birth control freshman year. Being a shy middle schooler, these things were hard to listen to until I learned that about ninety-nine percent of the human population becomes sexually active. After this discovery, I found myself more relaxed and open to learning about all there was to understand about being sexually healthy. Contraception, anatomy, you name it. 

But it wasn’t until I took a class outside of public school that I learned how consent is just as important as contraception in a relationship and that it affects one hundred percent of the population. Consent, rape culture, and sexual harassment were never stressed enough for me to remember it as easily as the condom balloons. As someone who has a little sister starting high school next year, I don’t want her to be as uninformed as I was in my coming of age years. 

Meghan Lever (Sehome’s intervention specialist) and a group of students, including myself, attended this year’s “Big Consent Event” to hear stories from sexual abuse victims, share our own experiences, and inspire each other to make a change in our schools. From Sehome’s brainstorm, I believe that we need to be taught our rights, how to recognize when behavior becomes assault and practice how to be an upstander and supporter of victims to prevent rape culture at its start. 

Sehome is on its way as far as education on consent. According to Graham Gribble (Health), the health teachers just underwent a three-day training by the Teen Council of Planned Parenthood who have spoken to classes about sexuality. WWU students are creating a campaign that will target high school students regarding consent. These are a great start. However, believe that there is still a disconnect between what we are briefly taught in a section of health coursework and what is actually creating change. It’s time we connect the dots. 

When the presenters of the event asked us if we knew our right to be taught “Title IX” of the Education Amendment I had no idea what they were talking about. As I looked around the room to see only a few raised hands, I certainly wasn’t alone. Title IX rights apply to every federally funded school. This law prohibits sexual harassment, requires schools to report violence, requires that there is someone in the school that anyone can speak to about harassment and that student reports stay private. 

Students also need to be taught how to recognize what both harassment and consent looks like. Harassment is any form of unwelcome sexual behavior. The presenters asked us questions about rape culture. Have you done or witnessed rape jokes, victim blaming, “locker room talk”, catcalling, rating bodies, stalking, unsolicited nudes, or revenge porn? An overwhelming majority of hands were raised. Consent also takes many forms. It needs to be sober, verbal, enthusiastic and consistent. It is not implied or ongoing. Even as someone who has experienced many sex ed classes, all of this was new information. 

Finally, the more common situation a high schooler will be put in is the bystander role.  I only know to believe, support and fulfill the victim’s wishes of confidentiality unless safety is a concern. Otherwise, I do not know how I would react in a real situation of sexual violence unless I was there. This needs to be ingrained in our memory in health to be more proactive than reactive when put in a bystander position. 

Just because our health classes and communities have progressed in awareness of these topics does not mean they don’t need improvement. When my younger sister is in high school, I want her to walk down these halls armed with the knowledge of how to be a preventative advocate for consent. Just like how all of us would want the same for our siblings, loved ones, or future children to feel in the world. For me, rape culture is a massive issue that seems incredibly difficult to tackle. But in order to scrape the surface of a worldwide phenomenon, we begin by first improving our own lives and education system right here in Sehome health classrooms.  

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