California state senators introduced a bill last week that would make it a graduation requirement for high school students to take a class on sexual assault and violence.
Senate Bill 695, co-authored by state senators Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) and Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), would require school districts that currently have mandated health education courses to include instruction on sexual assault and violence. This instruction would include information pertaining to the recently passed affirmative consent standard, which defines consent in sexual activity as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement.”
“This legislation will focus on prevention by educating high school students about affirmative consent and healthy relationships,” de Leon said in a press release.
Rebecca Levenson, a parent and a senior policy analyst for Futures Without Violence, an organization working to end violence against women and children, said students currently attending middle and high school have “very spotty” training in sexual assault prevention.
“We see this legislation come forward in the face of a great need that hasn’t been addressed, and I think that what has been going on at BHS is a classic example of what’s going on across the state and across the country,” Levenson said.
The federal Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation in January in response to Berkeley High School students’ complaints alleging that their school district violated Title IX — a federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in federally funded educational programs — by not responding adequately to sexual harassment and assault cases.
Berkeley Unified School District board president Judy Appel said she did not know enough about the bill to comment, although she previously noted that Berkeley middle and high schools offer counseling programs to students.
According to ASUC Senator Haley Broder, students should be educated before their first weeks of college. Broder said the enactment of this bill would be a dramatic change in how California students are exposed to sexual assault prevention in the classroom.
“Students don’t live in a box — they come to campus with their lived experiences from high school and before that,” she said. “So starting the conversation early, making sure that it’s meaningful and in person and interactive and full of dialogue is important.”
Recently implemented sexual assault education at UC Berkeley includes Bear Pact, which teaches about sexual violence in a live workshop, and Haven, an online course on sexual assault and relationship violence.
“People do not know what consent is when they come to campus, and then we expect them to change their concepts of sex and relationships very quickly,” Meghan Warner, chair of the ASUC Sexual Assault Commission, said in an email.
Warner said she supports the bill, noting that upon entering college, it takes a long time for students to unlearn their previously held attitudes about consent.