Illinois Passes Law Mandating Public Schools Teach And Discuss Meaning of Sexual Consent

ILLINOIS — Seems the issue of knowing exactly what consent is when it comes to sexual activity for school kids in 6th thru 12th grade is a problem in Illinois. To combat this stated pressure from social activism groups, including online in communities and the #MeToo movement, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday signed a bipartisan bill designed to ensure children and young adults learn the meaning of consent through the sex education curriculum in Illinois.

The bill, HB 3550, amends the School Code and ensures sex education course materials in grades six through 12 include an ‘age-appropriate’ discussion of the meaning of ‘consent’, in discussion form.

The discussions are required to include what constitutes sexual consent, and will cover consent from numerous angles, according to the bill.

Here are a few examples:

  • How consent to one sexual activity does not cover other sex acts.
  • How a person’s manner of dress does not constitute sexual consent.
  • How past consent does not provide for future consent.
  • How consent can be withdrawn at any time. A reminder that “no means, no” anytime and all the time.

The amended part of the statute reads; (from Ch. 122, par. 27-9.1 – 105 ILCS 5/27-9.1)

Amends the School Code.

With regard to a sex education course, provides that course material and instruction in grades 6 through 12 must include an age-appropriate discussion on the meaning of consent that includes discussion on recognizing that (i) consent is a freely given agreement to sexual activity, (ii) consent to one particular sexual activity does not constitute consent to other types of sexual activities, (iii) a person’s lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from the use or threat of force does not constitute consent, (iv) a person’s manner of dress does not constitute consent, (v) a person’s consent to past sexual activity does not constitute consent to future sexual activity, (vi) a person’s consent to engage in sexual activity with one person does not constitute consent to engage in sexual activity with another person, (vii) a person can withdraw consent at any time, and (viii) a person cannot consent to sexual activity if that person is unable to understand the nature of the activity or give knowing consent due to certain circumstances. Removes a provision requiring material and instruction to include, with an emphasis on workplace environment and life on a college campus, discussion on what constitutes sexual consent. Makes other changes concerning the course material and instruction.

In the age of Kavanaugh’s trials and the #MeToo movement, consent seems to have become a hot topic in American news. From SNL sketches to campus discussions, everyone has something to say. To them, there is still much uncertainty about what consent even is, how to give it, and what constitutes sexual assault.

Jennifer Driver, state policy director for the Sexuality Information and Education Council for the United States, told the Chicgao Tribune that young students are often only learning about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. She says, “Prevention only covers a small amount of what they need. Young people really need to learn about consent and healthy relationships”.

In a CBS article from 2015 health educator Justin Balido paints a picture to his Carlmont High School freshmen of mostly 14-year-olds, that; “a girl and boy meet at a school dance. The boy drives her home. They kiss. What happens next, over the girl’s protests, leaves him confused and her crying, no longer a virgin”.

Leaving out any detail or inclining of what may have transpired from the point of “they kiss”, to “what happens next”, Balido then asks his class of freshmen to “Raise your hands if you think this was rape”.

“Was it rape?” he asks his students.

After some dialogue back and forth, Balido steps in to settle the question, making it clear that this was rape under California’s new law.

Strides have been made to include consent in curriculum guidelines for quite some time now.

In 2014, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Enhance Physical Education Task Force published a set of standards for youth physical development and health knowledge, aimed at guiding schools in writing health curricula and making sure students reached certain wellness benchmarks.

Of particular interest to curricula on consent, standard twenty-four outlines goals for “communication and decision-making skills,” part 24C of which alludes to issues of consent. “Students who meet the standard can demonstrate skills essential to enhancing health and avoiding dangerous decisions,” which includes learning “refusal skills,” demonstrating ability to identify and respond to uncomfortable or dangerous situations, and identifying health-related community resources.

According to a 2016 CDC-led survey of schools nationwide, only 10.9 percent of Illinois schools cover the full recommended scope of nineteen sexual health topics, including all medical and contraceptive information, but 97.8 percent of Illinois high schools, including 94.4 percent of Chicago schools, teach students about “sustaining respectful relationships.” This category is assumed to imply teaching about consent, but no guidelines for this category were mentioned in the report.

So no means no?

Well, not exactly, not everywhere anyway. According to the same 2015 CBS article sex education in American schools is evolving beyond slideshows on reproductive biology and lectures on avoiding pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The new focus they say is teaching students communication skills, such as the “yes means yes” standard for seeking and giving consent during intimate encounters.

“After taking hold on college campuses, “yes means yes,” also known as affirmative consent, is trickling down to high schools and even some middle schools, as educators seek to give students tools to combat sexual violence”, they say.

“Yes means yes” means sex is consensual only when both partners are sober and clearly state their willingness to participate through “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement,” every step of the way. California is the first U.S. state to require “yes means yes” instruction in public high schools.

The U.S. Education Department takes no position on “yes means yes” or “no means no.” Its guidelines simply encourage age-appropriate training in elementary and secondary schools, including clear explanations of the consequences of unwanted sexual conduct and each school system’s definition of consent.

In all, seems we’re making a mountain out of the obvious here. Maybe communication is just different these days.

A kiss is mutual, felt mutually, a hand movement is welcomed. If it isn’t welcomed, if it isn’t mutual either verbally or physically, it is wrong. If you don’t know the difference between a receptive kiss, and a push away, or when somebody doesn’t want to have sex with you, you’re a moron.

Yet in the never-ending sea of sexual dialogue from the media today where gay, lesbian, bi, non-binary, trans and gender words flow freely in discussion everywhere, an utter confusion exists of what the meaning of giving someone consent is.  The government right there ready, to institute a new law to help your child understand it all.

Health educator Justin Balido provides some insight when he ends the dialogue with his freshmen teen students by saying, “Here’s what affirmative consent sounds like…”.

“Maybe” means “no.” ”OK,” ”sure,” and “fine” also mean “no.” Anything short of an enthusiastic “yes” means “no,” he says.

HB3550 was signed Monday and goes into effect in Illinois January 2020.

See also:

#MeToo influencing schools to teach consent in sex ed

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