Teaching about sexual consent—which the bill defines as “freely given, informed, and knowledgeable agreement” in reference to either something you do or something that is done to you—is paramount when it comes to sexuality for any gender and sexuality. It’s also incredibly important when it comes to recognizing sexual abuse, whether that’s from peers or adults in a student’s life, like a teacher, coach, or family member.
Learning about consent is important for everyone. Even as victim advocate Alan Buys reportedly argued, people who are not the stereotypical person looking to abuse or take advantage, but someone (in the case of students, perhaps a fellow minor) who may be truly ignorant or uneducated on what consent is and how to properly communicate it.
“The misconception that we’re having here is that there are the monster perpetrators, the ones that are manipulative and vile,” Buys stated, as reported by local outlet KSL. “But there are also these unintended, frankly ignorant perpetrators who just need a little education to understand that they have to ask, ‘Is it OK if I kiss you?’ or ‘Is it OK if I do X, Y or Z beforehand?'”
Talking about consent is also an opportunity to be inclusive when it comes to LGBTQ students. While there are prevalent stereotypes about who commits assault and how, LGBTQ young people are survivors of assault as well; sometimes from people outside of the community, and sometimes from people within their own community. These nuances are complex but important, and expanding sex education is an important opportunity to both inform and empower young queer children, as well as to make allies aware and equipped to offer empathetic support should the situation arise.
In the even bigger picture, teaching about consent can help people develop more empathy, awareness, and social skills even beyond sexual activity. Learning about consent at a young age can help later when it comes to, say, setting boundaries on decisions ranging from communication expectations (i.e., “I won’t continue a conversation if you speak to me in that tone again”), on preferences around drugs or alcohol (i.e., “I’m going to leave the party before alcohol comes out”), and on sharing private information (i.e., “I’m sharing this photo with you, so please don’t post it online or show others.”)
Even very young children can benefit from learning about both how to give and receive consent. Take, for example, teaching small children to both ask to give a hug as well as ask them if they want to receive a hug. These are small but important steps. And when it comes to making sure people feel respected, seen, and heard, every step counts.