Healthy relationships early may curb sex crimes later

Healthy relationships early may curb sex crimes later

(Calif.) As colleges across the country struggle to reduce the high rates of sexual assault among young adults, California legislators want to attack the problem far earlier – in elementary school.

Under a bill approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee, students in kindergarten through grade eight would begin receiving lessons in building positive peer relationships.

High school students would be required to receive more comprehensive instruction on topics including sexual violence, harassment and sex trafficking as well under SB 1435, authored by California State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D- Santa Barbara.

“I see this bill as a natural next step in our efforts to reduce sexual assault, harassment and bullying,” Jackson said during the committee hearing. “If we start in college, we’re starting too late, and we’ve learned that if we start in high school, we’re still starting too late.”

If enacted, SB 1435 would affect the next revision of the curriculum framework for health education, which has not been updated since 2003. Although the state board of education adopted new Health Education Content Standards in 2008, severe budget constraints halted the next step in the update in 2009.

California has a history of a bellwether on social justice issues, becoming the first state to establish an affirmative consent standard among the state’s colleges and high schools in 2014, defining sexual consent between two people as “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”

In addition, as of last year, high schools with health course graduation requirements must now include lessons about sexual assault and harassment.

Yet, even with the progress made, there is still work to be done. Nationally, 30 percent of female rape victims were first assaulted between the ages of 11 and 17 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And studies from the Crimes Against Children Research Center show that one in 5 girls and one in 20 boys has been a victim of child sexual abuse.

Almost 1,000 cases of human trafficking cases were reported in California last year, according to the National Human Trafficking Center. Nearly 800 of those were sex trafficking, while 34 were cases of both sex and labor trafficking.

Providing students of all races, gender identities, sexual orientations and ethnic and cultural backgrounds with relevant and appropriate information could proactively address the incidences of sexual harassment and assault that children, teens and young adults may be exposed, according to Jackson.

The call to push for age-appropriate instruction in earlier grades was applauded by members of the education committee. Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino commented that because young people may not always have a positive example of a healthy relationship at home, it is important to teach what a compassionate and empathetic relationship looks like.

“This illustrates that our education system is more than just reading, writing and arithmetic,” Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, said in agreement. “It’s about teaching healthy relationships too.”

The Instructional Quality Commission aims to revise the Health framework in time to be adopted by the SBE by 2019, according to Jackson. Existing law requires that they consider including information relevant to healthy boundaries in relationships, recognizing the signs of potentially abusive relationships and refusal skills to overcome peer pressure.