CONSENT 101: Sex education must be taught earlier in life

Graphic by Nicole Meade

The problem of sexual assault on college campuses and the “me too” movement around the country remains a persistent issue for students. The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act) was implemented in July 2015, which mandated colleges and universities to give sexual violence and harassment prevention training to new students and employees. This type of required education is a good step in a positive direction, but does it truly affect a student’s behavior?

For example, many of the universities and colleges use online training modules in sexual assault prevention to fulfill their CSVEA requirement. I remember taking a similar training module my first year at Portland State. The university required you to complete the module and short quiz in order for you to have access to class registration. I personally did not receive much from the module, and from what I gathered, other students have found similar online training ineffective on campuses.

Was the online training ineffective because of how it was being presented, or how the student was receiving it?

Implementing sexual assault education for first-year college students (mainly 18-year-olds) may be too late in having a true impact on an individual’s behavior. Understanding the true meaning of consent doesn’t occur after a one-hour online course during a student’s first year of college. Many of those students have had relationships or sexual encounters during high school. They may have developed a different meaning of what consent between two individuals looks like.

The “No Means No” campaign appeared to be a promising start but lacked a crucial variable that may occur. If an individual is unable to say “no,” whether it be from alcohol or other circumstances, has consent been given? Absolutely not: The lack of saying “no” to sexual advances does not replace the conscious “yes” and agreement towards the advances.

Intervention in high schools to educate students on sexual assault prevention and consent must be implemented in order to curb future actions a student may take in college.

Paul Schewe, a professor at University of Illinois (Chicago), who studies violence prevention was quoted in a article stating “absolutely college is way to late… even within high school the programs are less effective each passing year. What works well on ninth-graders, for example, has only one third the impact on 12th-graders. It just makes sense when kids go through puberty, that’s when their ideas about sex and beliefs and behaviors are forming, so that’s really a critical period.”

Making sure students have a true understanding of what consent actually means between two parties is crucial at that age group. They may not have the number of past experiences in which their own meaning of consent was used and hardwired into their brain. The small impact the programs have on 12th-graders shows the declining receptiveness some students have to this particular material.  Intervening at the earliest high school level may provide the greatest return for students.

Currently there is no national law that mandates sexual assault training in high schools. At the start of 2016, 25 states have implemented laws that require some form of sexual assault education. In order to truly decrease the number of sexual assaults on college campuses, the future students of those colleges need the training and knowledge of how to act in a given situation.

The knowledge and understanding that has had multiple years to sink in will be much more useful compared to a quick online course a few weeks prior to being on campus.


Eric Barnes

(MHCC Public Safety intern – Criminal Justice major at PSU)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.