Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Sexual Assault Prevention Should Have Been "On Us" from the Start

By Sydney LesterPublished October 21, 2014

Starting programs for sexual assault awareness and education for college students is not early enough. The stigma and perpetuation of rape culture can best be eliminated through long-term education starting as early as primary school.

By Sydney Lester, 10/21/2014

As of September, President Obama and Vice President Biden publicly announced a new program to spread sexual assault prevention education to college campuses nationwide. This initiative entitled "It's On Us", emphasizes the need for active bystanders and allies in order to make an impact. In a speech delivered on September 19th, the President noted that every student deserves an education "free from fear of intimidation or violence." Although this message and the intent of the initiative are key steps in reducing sexual violence, neither goes far enough.

                  Though universities do provide breeding grounds for countless cases of sexual assault, instances of unwanted advances occur well before students set foot on campus. According to a study conducted by Jama Pediatrics, in a sample size of 1,058 people ages 14 to 21, "nearly one in 10 young adults admit to committing some type of sexual violence." From the responses given, this study also concluded that "offenders started young, most first committing an act at age 16." Clearly, education regarding sexual assault prevention needs to start before students venture off to college.

                  The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that "all states are somehow involved in sex education for public schoolchildren." These programs tend to focus on teaching abstinence versus responsible protection and/or HIV/AIDS awareness. Little, if any, emphasis is placed on defining what consent and sexual assault mean or techniques and tactics to prevent sexual violence. Sexual education ranges so widely from state to state that students going to universities and moving beyond secondary education have a rather jumbled sense of what sex really is and how proper, legal consent can be given. If more comprehensive education were provided earlier in students' sexual education and curricula were standardized and expanded, there would be more potential for a reduction in sexual assault cases involving teenagers and young adults. If this system proved successful, the reduction may spread to older adults through time.

                  Some approaches have been envisioned to do just that. The Green Dot Strategy  serves to teach middle school and high school students how to be active bystanders "through awareness, education and skills practice." The innovators of this strategy acknowledge that "a cultural shift" is necessary to change the actions that beget sexual violence. That shift begins with earlier and more accurate education. Unfortunately, Green Dot and programs like it hold only a limited number of trainings per month. In order to be effective, programs need to be available to all students.

A measure that seems promising is one proposed by the National Sexuality Education Standards back in 2012. They argue that proper sexual education involves providing "young people the tools they need to build healthy relationships and prevent sexual violence." Putting words into action, they've created a curriculum for students from kindergarten on through high school that doles out age-appropriate information to "challenge societal messages that implicitly and explicitly condone…violence and sexualized bullying." If legislation were passed to enact this type of comprehensive education in all fifty states, it would significantly increase the momentum for the "cultural shift" to end society's passive acceptance of sexual violence and rape culture. "It's On Us" is a good start, but it won't put us anywhere near the finish line.