In October 2017, #MeToo swept the web by storm. Victims of sexual misconduct congregated via Twitter to inform the general public of the pervasiveness of sexual violence, despite its lack of coverage in public discussion. Although an outstanding number of women experience sexual harassment, a large majority of occurrences are neither reported nor even acknowledged. One of the key insights from the #MeToo movement was the great urgency to implement more preventative education regarding sexual misconduct, an issue that our nation has yet to take action on.
As a young girl going through the public education system in Indiana, I found that health class was the laughingstock of the school curriculum. With mundane and repetitive assignments following day after day, we never needed to pay attention in class. The curriculum was painfully reserved; our lessons were confined to learning about the human body, abstinence and sexually transmitted diseases. Looking back today, the conservative education I was given is irritating. The class had potential to teach young, impressionable teenagers something greater about consent and respect in relationships. Yet, in fear of being too vulgar or promoting sexual activity, the school neglected this immensely important component of health. Comprehensive sex ed has been proven to work study after study and still many schools, including mine, have never implemented an all-inclusive sex education.
While it can be extremely empowering to sexual violence survivors, calling out perpetrators and shaming their behavior is simply not enough for the greater meaning of this movement. In order to accomplish what’s most serious — preventing sexual assault from transpiring in the first place — we must take preemptive measures. Because of the great amount of time children spend in schools, it is only rational these preemptive measures be implemented into school curriculums. Preventative education has been proven to work; schools already have alcohol abuse and drug prevention programs in effect, with results showing a reduction in the number of occurrences of sexual assault. If the concepts of consent, respect for others and sensitivity to their feelings were taught more seriously in public schools, serious advancements could be made in the realm of sexual assault prevention.
One argument against including consent in public school curriculum is that it will only condone sexual activity and lead to a rise in the rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. However, this has been proven to be false. With the age of the internet, teenagers are bound to learn about sex, whether it is taught in schools or not. The means from which teenagers learn about sex are limitless; movies, pornography and music all teach the youth about sex, and often portray these sexual relationships in disrespectful or problematic ways. Withholding information about safe sex and consent only harms school-aged children; preventative education could easily combat these demeaning portrayals of sex.
Another argument for preventative education regarding sexual assault is the fact that gender harassment often occurs as early as kindergarten. Educating on sexual assault in the very place where it originates would be especially effective. The #MeToo movement acknowledged sexual and gender-based harassment in the workplace, but failed to address this behavior among grade-school children. Power dynamics and gender socialization are learned at an extremely young age, and tackling the subsequent problems they spawn in the very place they are created would most certainly be the best way to solve them. If young boys were taught their seemingly harmless actions (like pestering a girl) had greater implications, it’d be easier for them to understand the consequences of their actions as they grow older.
It would be a waste of an opportunity if the power behind the #MeToo movement didn’t change the way our school systems approach sexual assault. One change that would certainly decrease the ubiquity of this problem would be implementing preventive education in health classes of public schools. From a young age children should be taught that no means no, and we should ingrain in their minds that disrespectful actions have serious consequences before it is too late.
Yasmeen Dohan can be reached at email@example.com.