A state delegate from Montgomery County wants to require local public schools to teach students about “affirmative consent” during seventh- and 10th-grade sex education classes.
The drafted legislation would incorporate the consent concept in a curriculum that already covers pregnancy prevention, HIV/AIDS education and awareness of sexually transmitted diseases. Delegate Ariana Kelly said the proposal was inspired by recent conversations with her seventh-grade daughter.
“These are the issues that have been in the news all summer, whether it’s Roger Ailes or Bill Cosby or Donald Trump, these are the conversations I’ve been having with my daughter,” Kelly (D-Bethesda) said.
Kelly said county leaders have focused on combatting sexual assault through aggressive prosecution. However, educating young people about affirmative consent could avert some of the harassment that takes place in high school hallways and college campuses, she argues.
The bill defines affirmative consent as “clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed and voluntary agreement between all participants to engage in each act within the course of sexual activity.”
The Montgomery County legislative delegation held a public hearing last week on Kelly’s proposal and will now decide whether to get behind it as a group. If the bill wins the delegation’s support, it will be introduced during the state legislative session set to begin Jan. 11.
If the legislation passes, the new teaching requirement would apply to Montgomery County Public Schools beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year.
A 2011 survey by the American Association of Women found more than half of seventh- to to 12th– graders report experiencing sexual harassment, while a 2008 study found that one in eight high school girls reported being raped. Kelly points to lack of education as a factor in cases like that of Brock Turner, the former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
“I’m the mother of a son, as well as a daughter, and I want to make sure he knows that when you engage in any kind of physical contact with people, you don’t do it without their agreement,” she said.
County school board member Rebecca Smondrowski said MCPS already addresses affirmative consent in sex education classes for 10th-graders, but she’s open to giving the topic a stronger emphasis.
“Personally, as a woman and a mother of both a son and a daughter, I’m not opposed to that concept. I just believe it should be worked through MCPS and our curriculum department, as opposed to being state-mandated,” she said.
Kelly says state law already lays out the basic components for sex education courses, and her bill would simply add affirmative consent to the list. Local educators would determine how to adjust the curriculum, she said.