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Jane Doe Inc. is the statewide coalition against sexual assault and domestic violence. They are comprised of 57 community-based member organizations that are focused on addressing sexual and domestic violence. This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund wanted to spotlight Jane Doe Inc.’s policy director Maureen Gallagher and why Jane Doe Inc. is fighting for the Healthy Youth Act and consent education in Massachusetts.

We are living in the midst of a cultural reckoning on sexual violence. Powerful men have been toppled after years of horrifying abuse and harassment, predominantly of women. The stories of women of color, LGBQT identified people, immigrants, and others who experience sexual violence disproportionately must still be heard. People of all identities and backgrounds and from all sectors are rising up to call out sexual harassment and violence and enact new policies that combat these insidious practices. The #MeToo movement is calling out rape culture and demanding a shift to believe survivors.  As advocates and policymakers continue the hard work of addressing widespread sexual violence, we must also act to prevent it before it occurs. We must educate and engage young people around consent, sexuality, and healthy relationships.  

Too often, young people are inundated with unhealthy representations of sexuality and relationships, just as they are beginning to understand their own sexual identities. At the same time, open, positive discussions about healthy sexuality are few and far between. The results are dangerous and unacceptable:

  • In Massachusetts in 2015, more than 13 percent of girls and 5 percent of boys in high school reported having sexual contact against their will. In this same survey, 24 percent of students identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual reported having sexual contact against their will.1
  • In sexual assault cases, 73 percent are perpetrated by a non-stranger (which may be a friend, acquaintance, intimate partner, or relative).2
  • Approximately 80 percent of female victims experienced rape before the age of 24; almost half experienced rape before age 18.3

Responding to sexual violence in our schools and in workplaces is critical – but that’s not enough. We cannot deny the role of education in preventing sexual violence, nor can we allow harmful, medically inaccurate curricula to be taught in our schools. Parents, peers, communities, and, yes, schools have a responsibility to educate young people about sexuality, consent, and building healthy relationships.  Jane Doe Inc. sees the Healthy Youth Act as one solution.

The Healthy Youth Act would ensure that school districts that opt to offer sex education choose a comprehensive curriculum – meaning that young people will be taught consent, the benefits of delaying sex, and how to prevent STIs and pregnancy, all in a way that is respectful of their age, and sexual and gender identities.

Maureen Gallagher, Jane Doe Inc. Policy Director, speaks at the Healthy Youth Act Panel at the Massachusetts State House on January 31, 2018.

The bill will eliminate the misinformation, embarrassment, and bias that surrounds sexuality, empowering our young people to lead informed, healthy lives. The Healthy Youth Act would create a space for young people to learn accurate information about their bodies, sexuality, and how to respect each other. This isn’t just theory – consent education is proven to reduce instances of sexual violence.4

Massachusetts should not pass up an opportunity to prevent sexual violence before it occurs. When we don’t address root causes and don’t promote positive, healthy sexuality, we put young people at risk and weaken the health and safety of our communities. Sexual violence is linked to depression, substance abuse, the spread of STIs, unintended pregnancy, and poor educational outcomes. It needs to be treated as the public health issue that it is, not disregarded as too controversial.

The #MeToo movement revealed what we at Jane Doe Inc. and so many survivors already know – sexual violence is widespread. Today, Oklahoma, Maryland, Missouri, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Virginia are all taking steps to ensure that consent education is taught in their schools. California led the pack in 2015. The diversity of these states’ political climates should suggest that offering medically accurate lessons in consent are non-controversial, and are, in fact, just smart policy.

You can join Jane Doe Inc. in our fight for the Healthy Youth Act by signing up for email alerts to stay in the loop about ways to take action. You can also volunteer with us and our member programs across the Commonwealth and check out all of our upcoming events. We need your help to build a safer Massachusetts – join us.

 

Massachusetts Department of Public Health (2015). Health and Risk Behaviors of Massachusetts Youth. http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dph/behavioral-risk/youth-health-risk-report-2015.pdf

Rape Abuse & Incest National Network. 2009. www.rainn.org

CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention (2011). National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs

CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention (2017). Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Across the Lifespan: A Technical Package of Programs, Policies, and Practices. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ipv-technicalpackages.pdf

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