Consent May Soon Be Required as Part of Statewide Sexual Education Curriculum

Feb 14, 2018

Credit KBIA/file photo

A proposal to expand sexual education curriculum to require discussion about consent, sexual assault and violence started with a meeting between a state lawmaker and a group of MU students.

"We want to make sure that everyone in Missouri is getting this education, not just those that can afford a higher education," said Chelsea Spence, legislative director for The Associated Students of the University of Missouri, during a hearing Tuesday at the state Capitol. "It prepares students before they enter college."

Spence was testifying in support of a bill sponsored by Rep. Holly Rehder, R–Sikeston, that would modify the state’s sexual education programs to include education regarding those topics. Rehder said the bill is a result of a collaboration with Spence and other students from MU who reached out to her to draft the legislation.

The House Children and Families Committee heard more than an hour of testimony from 13 people in support of the bill. At least three members of the committee expressed strong support for the bill.

HB 2234 would add language stating: "An expression of lack of consent through words or conduct means there is no consent. Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from the use of force, threat of force, or placing another person in fear does not constitute consent."

The state’s statute was last updated in 2015, but it does not include a discussion about consent, sexual harassment or sexual violence. Currently, Missouri requires sexual education programs to be medically and factually accurate. Additionally, schools must "present abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred choice of behavior in relation to all sexual activity for unmarried pupils."

It is not mandatory for schools in Missouri to teach sexual education, but health and HIV/AIDS education is required. Local school boards make the decision if the district will teach sexual education. Parents can also opt-out of their child receiving sexual education at school.

Twenty-four states require that public schools teach sexual education, but no states currently require consent education as a part of their curriculum.

Sean Whiting of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri spoke in support of Rehder’s bill, stating that it is necessary to update Missouri’s sexual education programs.

"Missouri needs to do more. This is just a small step forward into bringing Missouri’s sexual education standards into the 21st century," Whiting said.

A 2015 nationwide study conducted by Planned Parenthood found that many of those surveyed agreed that sexual education programs need to include how to ask for consent, how to give consent and how to say no to sex.

Spence stressed the importance of education when it comes to consent, stating that oftentimes offenders do not understand they have crossed a line.

"We have perpetrators who are on our campuses who don’t know that they are a problem. We can’t bring people justice, and we can’t hold these perpetrators accountable when we never educated them on the criminality of this behavior," Spence said.

Tori Schafer, a member of MU’s It’s On Us chapter, said the bill falls in line with similar legislation being proposed nationwide. Schafer argued that teaching consensual sexual education in middle or high school will help prevent assaults when students reach a college campus.

Schafer said that a student's first month on campus is a time when they are at their most vulnerable. She said that "there’s not enough time for higher education institutions to teach these students about what consent is, and teach them about sexual violence and sexual assault," she said.

"The AAU survey that Mizzou participated in said that 30.8 percent of our female students were sexually assaulted during their four years on our college campus, and that rate is higher than the national statistic," Schafer said. 

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives; one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college. The data also shows that over 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report their assault.

The legislation received no opposition from the public. The next step would be for the committee to approve the bill.

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit,