Metro, News

Bill allows consent education in R.I. schools

Legislation passes bipartisanly, inspired by recent media coverage of sexual assault

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 15, 2018

New legislation sponsored by Rep. Joseph Solomon D-22 aims to inform youth about consent during sex education courses in secondary schools.

The Rhode Island House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare unanimously passed House Bill 7044, which allows consent to be included in sex education curricula in secondary schools, Wednesday night. Rep. Joseph Solomon, D-22, introduced the bill in early January, inspired by recent media coverage surrounding sexual assault.

Sponsored by five Democratic state representatives, the bill passed in a committee of 13 Democrats and two Republicans, garnering bipartisan support, Solomon said. “Preventing (sexual assault) from happening, that’s something everybody can be on board with,” he added.

Current rhetoric surrounding sexual assault was only one of the incentives behind the bill; Solomon himself never received education on consent while in secondary school, which he felt, retrospectively, was a significant problem, he said.

“I felt that a person shouldn’t learn about consent education when they get to college,” he said. “That’s something that they should learn before they go.”

Kassandra Fotiadis ’18, lead peer educator for Sexual Assault Peer Education, sees consent education in secondary schools as a primary step in preventing sexual violence. “Tendencies for violent behavior start before (college),” she said. Fotiadis’ only contention with the bill is that it only allows for consent education, as opposed to making it obligatory. That said, mandating consent education if the lessons are unwanted goes against the practices SAPE teaches, she added.

“I guess the full accomplishment, for me, would be for K-12 schools to do something related to consent education,” Fotiadis said. “But what that education looks like should depend on the school and the student culture.”

Though the R.I. Department of Education does not prevent sex education programs from teaching consent, “from what I hear from people, it’s not being taught at the level where it should be,” Solomon said.

Michaela Kennedy-Cuomo ’20, campus organizer for the University’s chapter of It’s On Us, a sexual assault awareness and support group, believes the bill will have an extensive impact.

“This bill will help kids from a younger age start to recognize what is consensual and what’s not, improve the quality of their interactions and, most importantly, prevent sexual assault, to an extent,” Kennedy-Cuomo said.

She also sees the bill as especially fitting for educating high school students. She remembers a culture of non-consensuality in her own high school that she thinks may have been improved by a program that educates students on consent, Kennedy-Cuomo said.

“(During) high school, I think there are a lot of sexual encounters which are non-consensual which perpetrators don’t realize,” Kennedy-Cuomo said. “During high school years, many survivors also don’t realize, … ‘Wait, that is really messed up.’”

Consent education would give high school students a clearer idea of the conversations they should be having, Kennedy-Cuomo said. It is important to dispel the notion that consent prevents students from talking or hooking up with each other, she added.

Solomon hopes House Bill 7044 will be scheduled for a hearing in the House of Representatives within the next few weeks.