A new law in the state of California will require students between 7th and 12th grade to be educated on sexual harassment and assault. The law will go into effect for its first full year this fall.
The law will make the state the first in the United States to require high schools to teach students about sexual consent, including what it is and how it is established. While some high schools already include this topic, a law was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2015 that requires all schools in the state that mandate health courses to teach consent beginning in the 2016 school year.
"Our dedication to a more comprehensive approach to sex ed — principles that are evidenced based, culturally appropriate, nonjudgemental, the whole thing about establishing parameters about not having sex — is really revolutionary, positively revolutionary, because none of the other states are dealing with those issues," said Claire Brindis, a pediatrics professor and adolescent health policy researcher at University of California, San Francisco.
In all, 23 additional states require sex education to be taught to students between 7th and 12th grade. Meanwhile, many states across the country still do not require the topic, and also do not require that it be medically accurate.
California has required schools that teach sex education to ensure all information provided to students be medically accurate since 2003. In 2014, the state began to require sexual consent be based on a "yes-means-yes" policy in place of the standard "no-means-no." In other words, sexual partners were required to agree to having sex by way of verbal communication. This policy was put in place in an effort to address rapes that occur with unconscious victims, writes Jane Meredith Adams for The Huffington Post.
Tim Kordic, a project advisor for health education, noted that although a number of school systems, including Los Angeles Unified School District, already has comprehensive sex education as a requirement, the summer was still spent training teachers in an effort to allow them to learn the tools necessary to have a conversation with students on sensitive subjects. Lessons will include preventing shaming, LGBT inclusion, human trafficking, contraception, HIV/AIDS, and yes-means-yes consent.
At the same time, Congress has increased funding for sex education to push abstinence, increasing the funding for such efforts to a total of $25 million. However, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson disagrees with the program, stating that she had observed a "culture of rape" while visiting college campuses. She had been there to push affirmative consent, but said that she recognized that that would not be enough, reports Kate Stringer for The74Million.
"If we start this discussion at the college level, we're starting too late," Jackson said, adding that "the goal is to prevent sexual assault and to create a culture that is consent- and support-driven."
The Centers for Disease Control report that the United States currently has a high rate of teenage pregnancy when compared to other industrialized nations, with 57 for every 1,000 teenagers in comparison to 14 per 1,000 in countries such as the Netherlands. The increased rate comes at a cost of $9.4 billion in taxpayer money each year for health and foster care.
Meanwhile, states that require medically accurate sex education are found to have lower rates of teen pregnancy. While the rate in Mississippi, which does not have such a requirement, is 42.6 per 1,000, the rate in New Jersey, which does require medical accuracy, is 14.8 per 1,000 girls.