OPINION: Sex ed must be taught earlier

Teaching people earlier will make abuse easier to spot and stop

While+school+districts+can+choose+what+to+teach%2C+educating+people+earlier+will+help+stop+sex+crimes.

LAUREN PETTIT

While school districts can choose what to teach, educating people earlier will help stop sex crimes.

GUS WATERS, Evergreen Columnist

The recent comprehensive sex education bill passed by the Washington state legislature mandating that public schools follow eight guidelines protects both family values and promotes sexual safety. The bill will make children and teenagers safer in a world where sexual assault overwhelmingly affects younger people.

The bill does not establish one curriculum for sex education that all schools need to follow, it sets out eight concepts that schools need to teach starting at kindergarten which include affirmative consent, medically accurate information about body parts, how to get help in abusive relationships and gives parents explicit rights to remove their child from health class if they wish. The bill also lets school districts come up with their own curriculum if they submit it to the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) for approval.

According to the Washington State Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, 80 percent of all women’s sexual assault in Washington occurs before the age of 18, with 45 percent of women and 22 percent of men experiencing sexual violence in their lifetimes. 

“Not all kids come from healthy families,” said Rep. Amy Walen, D-Redmond and one of the bill’s house supporters. “The school system needs to act as a safety net for protecting children and the biggest way you can protect children is by giving them a good education.” 

This bill will reduce teenage sexual assault by providing a high bar for consent. Teenagers wouldn’t be confused any longer about whether or not someone who was drunk or unconscious could give consent, and children would know that it is never acceptable for adults to touch them somewhere that makes them uncomfortable.

Education will not eliminate Washington’s deep problems with sex crimes, but having information available at school will reduce sexual assault and give victims the justice they deserve by helping them to better prosecute their assaulters.

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver and one of the bill’s key house sponsors, said the bill was designed with an intent to protect children from sex crimes. Stonier said there had been a case presented to her where a child was molested, but couldn’t get a conviction against the perpetrator because the child didn’t know the name of the part where they had been touched.

Cases like this show the need in Washington state schools to have proper education around this difficult and controversial topic.

While this bill does offer a chance to fight sexual assault in Washington, it is widely criticized by Republicans in the state house. 

Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy and one of the bill’s dissenters, argues that the bill provides an unjust intrusion into the role parents have in their child’s education, overrides school district authority and will not be an effective way to combat assault. 

The bill does give OSPI more authority to override outdated sex education, but it leaves lots of freedom for school districts to come with their own curriculums.

“Districts have a lot of flexibility if there are standards that don’t feel right for their students,” said Katy Payne, the communications director for OSPI.

The bill will make children and teenagers safer in a world where sexual assault overwhelmingly affects younger people.

Dye, and other dissenters rightfully point out the importance of parents in their child’s education and the failure of other education programs for kids like Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

While this bill could be strengthened by referring parents who choose to take their children out of sex education classes to resources on family taught sex education, it does leave families and school district with lots of room to teach the values they want to teach.

Furthermore, a 2018 study by the Center for Biotechnology Information found that sexual education that promoted anti-sexual assault skills presented in schools before age 18 lowered the risk for women experiencing sexual assault in college.

Parents have a right to teach their kids the values they were raised on, and school districts have a right to customize their curriculum to their school district. This bill does not infringe on either of those rights.

By not passing this bill, we ignore the rights of parents to effectively prosecute child molesters, the right of teenagers to help their friends who have been raped and the rights of the public to a healthy youth free of STDs and pregnancy.

Gus Waters is a freshman political science and history double major from Bellevue, Wash. He can be contacted at 335-1140 or at [email protected] The views expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of The Daily Evergreen, its editors or publishers.