Consent Education Programs Aren’t Perfect… But They’re Important


Early last month, a rape trial that might have otherwise gone unnoticed went viral when a letter the victim read aloud to her attacker was run on the news channel of popular lifestyle site BuzzFeed. Through this woman’s powerful and heartbreaking words, the world learned how former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner had sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. Turner was sentenced to only six months in county jail, plus probation. The outrage was immediate.

For his part, Turner announced that he planned to travel to college campuses across the country in order to lecture on the dangers of binge drinking.

This announcement provoked even more outrage. After all, drinking wasn’t the problem. The problem was a man taking something from a woman that was not his to take, at a time when she was clearly unable to give consent.

I’ve blogged in the past about how comprehensive sex ed and consent education go hand in hand, and that consent education programs alone do not necessarily produce the desired results. Still, consent education is better than no education at all.

In recent years, universities have begun incorporating consent education and sexual violence programs into their offerings and setting up websites where students can educate themselves about consent. A brief internet search yields a slew of these, including Clark University’s Anti-Violence Education Program; Missouri State’s web portal containing information on sexual assault prevention, education, and resources; the University of Vermont’s consent education program and collection of resources; and Columbia University’s prevention education initiative.

But one does not have to be enrolled at a university to access such resources. In addition to searching the websites for the aforementioned programs, there is information available on the Planned Parenthood website, including a collection of videos on consent, in addition to frequently asked questions. And Planned Parenthood also offers an informational checklist for parents on how to talk to their kids about consent and healthy relationships… at any age.

And if you’re a teacher, we here at the Center for Sex Education have you covered. Consent is covered in many of our teaching manuals, but we also a free lesson plan from Unequal Partners called Enthusiastic Consent. This lesson plan helps you define the term “enthusiastic consent,” discuss the difference between consent and enthusiastic consent, and lead a role playing exercise with your students during which they can practice communicating about enthusiastic consent.

As stated in the lesson plan, “the common standard for sexual activity is that consent be verbal, ongoing and enthusiastic! When consent is enthusiastic, all individuals involved in a sexual encounter clearly understand that everyone is willing, and excited to be engaging in that particular sexual activity.”

This is the lesson that needs to be taught. This is the lesson that Turner and others should be learning, and hopefully before they enter college.

Binge drinking is a red herring. It is a distraction from the larger issue of sexual assault and why it happens.

Don’t let yourself be distracted.