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Tipsheet

The Buzz Around Sexual Assault Has States Pondering: Should We Teach Students About Consent In K-12?

The number of sexual assault allegations against actors and politicians has grown over the last few years. Men that children idolized, like Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey, are now known for one thing: the sexual assault allegations made against them.

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For one middle schooler in Maryland, this wasn't normal. And things needed to change.

"I was frankly really distraught," Maeve Sanford-Kelly told NPR. "I felt powerless. I assumed that this was what happened, that sexual harassment and sexual assault was a thing in our society and it wasn't going to change because it was part of the power structure."

Her mother, Ariana Kelly, a Democratic legislator in Maryland, decided to do something about it. Kelly introduced a piece of legislation that would require schools throughout the state to talk about consent in sex ed classes.

The bill defined consent as "the unambiguous and voluntary agreement between all participants in each physical act within the course of interpersonal relationships." 

Since the beginning of 2018, six states (which include Maryland) have introduced bills requiring schools to teach the importance of consent in sex ed classes. Bills have previously failed in Massachusetts, Mississippi, Utah and Virginia. It also failed in Maryland the first time Kelly introduced the bill.

These types of bills have been controversial and have stemmed concern from Republican and Democrats alike. Opponents believe that explaining consent is equivalent to condoning sex, while others believe parents should teach their kids about consent, not schools. 

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One student who helped campaign in favor of Kelly's bill, Matt Post, is now a freshman at Yale, Judge Brett Kavanaugh's alma mater. The university has been thrown into the news cycle lately as alumni recount various stories about the culture on and off campus. According to Post, things seemed to have improved over the last three decades but says "rape culture" is still around.

"They don't understand the ongoing nature of consent. They don't understand that a incapacitated yes is not really a yes," Post told NPR. "I think it's still sort of a mixed bag and I think it's because of when we were respectively taught these lessons."

Post hopes that more education, which could start as young as kindergarten, would be beneficial for healthier relationships.

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