By Veronica Mohesky, 23News staffer

High school senior Sophia Caratti expressed little enthusiasm about her mandatory health class freshman year.

“We just learned about first-aid, childbirth, drug use,” Caratti said. “And that’s it.”

Her friend Kristin Ruble agreed. Both Hickman High School seniors said the class was uninformative and unexciting.

Missouri’s mandatory health class for high schools is supposed to cover topics like drugs, alcohol, nutrition, relationships and sex according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Health Education Grade Level Expectations. The unit on sex covers subjects like STDs, STIs and pregnancy, with abstinence taught as the preferred method of protection.

In the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Health Education Grade Level Expectations, one thing is missing: consent. Despite being one of the most important and debated aspects of sex, consent is not required to be taught in Missouri public schools.

“I guess we’ve never really used the word consent before in class,” Emily Baker, a health teacher at Oakville High School in St. Louis, Missouri said. “We do stress that it’s something that you want to do, that no one is talking you into it, but we could probably stress the consent part a little more.”

Some UM System students saw this as a problem. Students in the Associated Students of the University of Missouri (ASUM) gathered to discuss ideas for legislation about this issue and approached Rep. Holly Rehder, R- Mo., to sponsor the bill. The goal was to bring a conversation about sexual assault to the Missouri legislature.

On Jan. 23, House Bill 2234, also known as the “It’s On Us” bill, was introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives. If enacted, this bill would make education about sexual harassment, sexual violence and consent mandatory in public schools.

“Hopefully it will prevent the magnitude of sexual assault we see on campus,” Chelsea Spence, legislative director for ASUM, said. She said teaching Missouri students about consent in high school could prevent sexual assault in the future.

The director of counseling at Rock Bridge High School, Betsy Jones, said this bill will cause no change in Columbia Public Schools. She said consent is taught to students in the healthy relationships unit of health class at Rock Bridge.  

“We teach consent in all Columbia Public high schools,” she said.

Students would beg to differ.

“Honestly, it was a long time ago,” Lauren Nagel, a Rock Bridge senior, said. “But there was definitely no talk about it.”

When asked if they remembered learning anything about consent in their class, Hickman High School seniors Sophia Caratti and Kristin Ruble both promptly responded with a “no.” These three students, along with their classmates, may not have been taught the line between sex and rape.

Jones may be misinformed about the curriculum of the health classes. The health education grade level expectation guidelines for Missouri public schools include no mentions of consent. This document has remained the same since 2007.

Teachers may discuss some aspects of consent in Missouri, but without discussing it in full, Spence said that teens are not being well-prepared for sexual activity. Baker spoke about teaching students to not do what they don’t want to do, but not the specific components of consent, such as sobriety or retractability.

Spence said there are many shades to consent, and it is imperative that students understand all of them before they go to college so that they can protect themselves.

Some students expressed interest in the increase in consent education in Missouri schools.

“They should at least go over it and make sure everyone is on the same page and know what consent is,” Caratti said.

Baker agreed, but also said there is a problem with the timing of the class.

“I think it should be covered more, but I also think at this point in the high school curriculum mostly freshmen take it, and I kinda wish it was later, like juniors and seniors should take it.”  Baker said. “Not that freshmen aren’t experiencing these things, but seniors are leaving and going to school.”

Seniors Caratti and Ruble plan on going to MU next fall. Both girls expressed concern that consent is not taught in the classroom. They said that it could affect sexual assault on campus.

“I know one main concern a lot of people have is going out at night like when there is no one out.” Ruble said.

According to KnowYourIX.org, the national average for female sexual assault on campus is about 19 percent. According to the 2014 AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, the female sexual assault rate at MU is 30.8 percent. This is over 10 points higher than the national average.

When told about these statistics, Caratti and Ruble said this concerned them. They said it is possible that lack of consent education could be a factor in the high sexual assault rate. Both girls think consent should be taught in Missouri high schools.

“I think they should definitely teach it and have a class to go over consent,” Caratti said. “In the main sex ed class they should teach people more about it.”

Both Ruble and Caratti said they support the passage of the “It’s On Us” bill. Baker supports the bill as well.

Jones was unenthusiastic about the bill, however.

“An unfunded mandate is exactly that,” She said.

Jones said that if there are no funds to back the bill, CPS will not be able to implement it.

Spence said the bill has no fiscal note, but the bill does not require any new funds to be implemented.

The “It’s On Us” bill will reach the House of Representatives floor on May 1. ASUM leaders say that they expect it to pass because it has bipartisan support.

Edited by Isabel Lohman | iplp54@mail.missouri.edu

 

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