Can sex ed prevent violence?

Can sex ed prevent violence?

Sexual violence exists on a continuum that includes a range of behaviors: from sexist or raunchy jokes, to homophobic slurs, to physical sexual assault. 

The range of offensive and traumatizing behavior is wide, but it is all connected -- even supported  -- by ingrained cultural misunderstandings of gender, power, privilege, respect, personal boundaries, consent and other concepts that form the basis for building healthy relationships.

We know it is possible to stop sexual violence in all forms by working further upstream to change understandings, cultural norms, and ultimately behaviors. The place we see most promise is with young people, whose attitudes and worldview aren’t yet hard-wired.

KCSARC was called upon to help inform the development of the sexual violence prevention lessons in the FLASH (Family Life and Sexual Health) curriculum, currently used in schools throughout King County. We now work directly with students, educators, and parents at the middle and high school levels, providing proven, effective primary sexual violence prevention education in the Renton School District.

We want more young people to have access to ongoing, high-quality, effective prevention education, regardless of the curriculum a district may choose. That’s why KCSARC supports Comprehensive Sexual Health Education in all Washington schools.

Young people are surrounded by bad information about health and relationships from their peers, TV, and the internet. They need reliable information that a quality, fact-based sexual health education can deliver in order to make healthier choices and mutually respectful relationships.

Comprehensive sexual health education is delivered through ongoing, medically accurate, and culturally appropriate lessons throughout a young person’s time in school. It includes primary sexual violence prevention education focused on strengthening protective factors that, in turn, decrease the risk of sexual violence perpetration.

Comprehensive sexual health education promotes cumulative skill-building, allowing students to learn essential components of healthy friendships and relationships, including respecting boundaries, consent, and identities, and navigating conversations surrounding sexuality.

It incorporates specific conversations about gender norms, including tools to question and resist them.

It also empowers individuals to make healthy decisions that take into account the impacts of choices on oneself as well as others.

Weaving comprehensive sex education into the structure of K-12 schooling allows young people to engage in and promote positive social norms that refuse to accept violence and harm toward others as a norm. This is how we shift the culture and end sexual assault.

Washington State enacted the Healthy Youth Act in 2007, establishing guidelines for school districts that choose to offer sexual health education. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) estimates 60% of high schools and 30% of middle schools currently provide comprehensive sexual health education. Important, age-appropriate lessons are also being taught in elementary schools (check out KCSARC’s Launch Pad tool, created to help guide elementary school educators on important foundational lessons about healthy friendships and boundaries).

Earlier this year, legislation was proposed to make comprehensive, age appropriate, medically accurate, and inclusive sexual health education available to all Washington State students. As proposed, it would have allowed districts to choose from any curriculum that meets state standards and guidelines for teaching students about healthy relationships, how to identify and respond to attitudes and behaviors that contribute to sexual violence, and about the importance of affirmative consent.

Though the proposal did not pass, the legislature directed OSPI to convene a workgroup to make recommendations on Comprehensive Sexual Health Education, which has taken public comment. We'll be watching for next steps and will let our supporters know what's happening*. 

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