Editorial: Taking sexual assault seriously starts early

Students need to know that sex without consent is rape and that consent must be voluntary

Sexual assaults will likely never be eliminated in our society but much can be done to reduce their number and ensure a climate of respect in schools, workplaces and anywhere people congregate.

The issue is top of mind because of the criminal case of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. As well, the movie Bombshell lays out cringe-worthy details of a corporate culture at Fox News where men in powerful positions preyed on women.

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But while these high-profile media cases laid bare problems in U.S. workplaces, Canada has its own problem with sexual assault, particularly among people aged 15 to 24, and in most of the cases, according to recent federal statistics, the young woman knew the perpetrator, who was a friend, acquaintance or neighbour.

Much has been written about this issue and the rise of the #MeToo movement. But here at home, efforts are being made to raise awareness about sexual assaults and how to prevent them. This week, for example, a campaign has been launched at 25 post-secondary institutions, including Douglas College and SFU, help keep students save from sexual violence.

During the first days back a school this winter, social media ads will remind students that sex without consent is rape and that consent must be voluntary. In addition, a number of resources are being made available so students know what sexual assault is and where they can go to get help, especially on campus.

This is all important information and it’s good to know that school campuses are required to have policies in place to make students safer. But statistics show students as young as 15 are victims of sexual assault, which means that students need to be told at an early age what is and what is not appropriate.

School curriculum already provides anti-bullying and -harassment information for students but one teacher at Terry Fox secondary has gone a step further in developing curriculum to help teachers tackle this difficult topic.

Ryan Cho, a social justice and music teacher at the Port Coquitlam school whose students made a video promoting consent culture and held a protest in support of the #MeToo last year, has developed a three-lesson plan that explores consent culture, sexual assault and rape culture. As well, he provides a lesson that encourages males to inquire about roles and stereotyping.

These initiatives should be shared widely because it’s important the next generation learns to respect personal and emotional boundaries to prevent problems from occurring.

It may be too late for some in older generations to understand or care about #MeToo but not for those just starting out in life and the adults who have a duty to protect them.

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