October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Domestic violence affects various types of relationships, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual; married or dating, or even teen dating. It also takes different forms, ranging from extreme verbal assault and power and control patterns to physical and sexual violence. Not only is sexual violence relevant to the domestic violence realm, it is also particularly problematic among college campuses, where relationships are not always so clearly defined.
To address this epidemic, various investigations, protests, discussions, and initiatives have taken place, including the thought provoking artistic protest that took place at Columbia University last year. In fact, The Department of Education led 55 investigations to see if colleges and universities had violated federal laws in the way that sexual violence and harassment cases had been handled.
Senator Kevin de Leon from Los Angeles introduced a bill to create a safe and healthy environment. He also wanted to shift the conversation to prevention, justice and healing. For example, in September 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the first “Affirmative Consent” bill to clarify the standard of consent in sexual violence allegations. SB-967 Section 67386 defines agreeing to have sex as follows: California took an interesting approach
“(a)(1) An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity. “Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.”
Although this may seem like a reasonable and sensible concept, it is not understood by everyone. As a result, California came up with the Pupil Instruction Sexual Health Education bill, making California the first state to require sex education classes in order to talk about sexual consent. State education officials need to revise their curriculum to include these types of health classes and explain the yes means yes standard.
“(1) To provide pupils with the knowledge and skills necessary to protect their sexual and reproductive health from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and from unintended pregnancy.
(2) To provide pupils with the knowledge and skills they need to develop healthy attitudes concerning adolescent growth and development, body image, gender, sexual orientation, relationships, marriage, and family.
(3) To promote understanding of sexuality as a normal part of human development.
(4) To ensure pupils receive integrated, comprehensive, accurate, and unbiased sexual health and HIV prevention instruction and provide educators with clear tools and guidance to accomplish that end.
(5) To provide pupils with the knowledge and skills necessary to have healthy, positive, and safe relationships and behaviors.”
This is groundbreaking as most states do not even require sex education, let alone sex education that is based on medically accurate facts. It also encourages a sense of inclusiveness and a positive discussion about sex. Senator Kevin de Leon says “Lessons taught today will result in safer campuses and communities tomororw”
Critics are worried that this will create an unfair burden of proof on the accused because one cannot draw such a sharp line in a gray area. They are also worried these classes will lead to more confusion. But despite these valid concerns, such an initiative seems like a great way to help future generations learn how to better understand each other’s feelings and desires, as well as be comfortable with their own selves; in the hopes of reducing sexual violence, and creating safer environments for everyone. Domestic violence and sexual violence also stem from complex dynamics in relationships and an inability to communicate effectively conflict situations. Teaching positive, medically accurate and responsible sex education classes at a young age can hopefully address these issues.