Hertel: Want to prevent college rape? Teach high schoolers about consent.

‘Yes Means Yes’ sex ed bill resurfaces in Michigan Senate

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TUESDAY, April 30 — Legislation to beef up Michigan’s high school sex education curriculum is resurfacing in the Senate. And its sponsor, Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, said its passage will help curb sexual assault.

“There is not a robust understanding of consent, and that needs to change. If we change our culture, we help stem the tide of sexual assaults on our college campuses,” Hertel said. “We have to get this information out there to kids at a young age and instill a basic level of respect for their partner and just other humans in general.”

Senate Bill 270, the “Yes Means Yes” bill, died at the end of the last year’s legislative session, but Hertel reintroduced it last month. It aims to tweak high school curriculums across the state to mandate lessons on sexual assault, dating violence, bystander intervention, affirmative consent and more.

“The idea here is that you have a right to your own body and that nobody can take that from you,” Hertel explained. “It seems basic, but it’s absolutely needed. That’s why we’ve been working so hard on this one.”

In addition to the standard promotion of protected sex and abstinence for teenagers, the bill looks to add lessons that would educate high school kids across Michigan on sexual assault and dating violence. Local districts will decide how to teach lessons that include topics like personal boundaries, consent and how to prevent an assault.

Among the topics outlined in the legislation:

  • Both partners need to provide consent before any sexual activity.
  • A lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission does not constitute affirmative consent.
  • Affirmative consent to past sexual activity doesn’t represent consent for future sexual activity.
  • That consent can be withdrawn at any point during sexual activity.
  • Consent is impossible without a proper understanding of the nature of the activity.
  • Those who are under in the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot give consent.
  • Those who are underage, sleeping or unconscious also cannot give consent.

Hertel said the bill offers general suggestions for local school districts but allows each high school to decide how to implement the enhanced curricula.

Most of the feedback — including an endorsement from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — has been positive, he noted.

“We need to get to work lowering the number of sexual assaults, and that starts with teaching our kids about consent,” Whitmer said, noting 20% of female college students are sexually assaulted in Michigan. “Our students deserve better. We can send a message to Michiganders that sexual assault will not be tolerated in our state.”

“This is about basic respect,” Hertel said. “I firmly don’t understand why anyone would be opposed to something like this. If this was a discussion on changing the legal definition of sexual assault? I suppose. We could talk. But who could be opposed to teaching kids tools to prevent unwanted sex? Nobody is pro-rape.”

The Detroit News editorialized against the bill last year, saying it “may sound like a fine idea, but it sets up unrealistic expectations for romantic encounters. And as we’ve seen on college campuses, such standards often erode due process rights for those accused of assault.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness.

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