The Reauthorization of VAWA

The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act:

Important Developments For The Violence Against Women Movement, In Time For A Pivotal Anniversary

The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, also known as Campus SaVE, is legislation passed in 2013 that strives to strengthen campus security in regard to sexual assault by encouraging reporting, expanding prevention and bystander intervention education, and promoting transparency within conduct processes. Campus SaVE is part of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and provides a comprehensive reform of the sexual assault prevention and response processes already in place at colleges and universities across the United States.

The provisions of the act will be implemented started in March 2014, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the pivotal Kitty Genovese rape and murder. Kitty Genovese was a young woman who lived in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of New York; she who was raped and murdered right outside of her home on March 14, 1964. Her story became one of the most well-known rape cases in American history and became the quintessential example in advocacy for bystander intervention education. While March 14th has always been associated with a tragic memory, with the enactment of the provisions of Campus SaVE in 2014, this date will represent both a sad remembrance of the past and a hopeful look towards a safer future.

The trajectory of Campus SaVE begins at the conception of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994. The Act provided 1.6 billion dollars towards the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, including sexual assault and rape, domestic violence, sexual slavery, and intimate partner violence. The Act also established the federal Office on Violence Against Women. The ultimate goal of the Act was to draw more legislative attention to violence against women and revise the criminal justice system’s response to violence against women to make it more survivor supportive.

The initial act was considered successful, with states enacting more than 600 laws to combat violence against of women, increased rates of reporting sexual violence, and a spike in usage of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Revisions have been made since: in 2000, Congress added protections for the elderly, disabled women, and battered immigrants, and in 2005, Congress harshened penalties for repeat offenders, increased protections for trafficked immigrants, and introduced programs for sexual assault victims.[1]

Campus SaVE was first introduced as a provision of VAWA to address sexual assault on college campuses and a broader scope of intimate partner violence, including stalking, dating violence, and domestic abuse. Campus SaVE is in some ways an “upgrade” of the federal Jeanne Clery Act, which set requirements for colleges and universities receiving any federal aid to report instances of crime on their campuses. Campus SaVE expands these requirements to hold colleges and universities more accountable for crimes on their campuses and adds an education component to the effort to address sexual violence. [2]

Campus SaVE accomplishes these goals in three specific ways.

1. Victim’s Rights Provisions: Colleges are now required to establish a basic framework of clear and well- communicated standards regarding how the college handles cases of sexual assault. These standards include survivors’ rights in court, the range of realistic sanctions for convicted perpetrators, detailed outlines of the processes and procedures, etc.

2. Education: Colleges are now required to instate prevention and awareness education programs for incoming students and employees that clearly define consent, explain what the different sex offenses are, and educate about risk reduction and bystander intervention.

3. Best Practices Report: Colleges are encouraged to use a Best Practices Report put out by the United States Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services. This report recognizes the most effective, supportive, and judicious practices in the country of preventing and responding to sexual assault and intimate partner violence. [3]

The controversy surrounding the act involves an additional requirement included in the original bill, a mandate to use a lower standard of evidence in court to convict potential perpetrators, called “the preponderance of the evidence standard”. The preponderance of the evidence standard is used in most civil cases; in order to convict under the preponderance standard, the evidence has to indicate that the proposition is more likely to be true than not true. Compared to the other prevalent standards – “clear and convincing” and “beyond a reasonable doubt” – which call for 75% and 95% of evidence to match the claim, respectively, the preponderance of evidence standard is weaker and allows for easier conviction of potential perpetrators. The original bill proclaimed that “search proceedings shall- use the preponderance of evidence standard”. However, this mandate was struck and the bill passed without any specification as to which standard of evidence should be used.

Wendy Murphy, an acclaimed victims’ rights attorney, spoke out against the change, claiming that choosing a higher burden of proof will “erode the value of Title IX” because schools will be able to ignore and cover up sexual misconduct more easily. [4] As the number of institutions being accused of handling sexual assaults poorly increases, it is increasingly evident that sexual assault is an issue that many schools either ignore, undervalue as an issue, mishandle, or address in a way that increases oppression and discrimination on the basis of sex. : for example, in 2002 Harvard adopted a policy requiring victims of sexual assault to provide “sufficient independent corroboration” as a prerequisite for the university conducting a full investigation and resolution of their complaints. Such information could include an email sent by the victim to a friend, a prompt report of the incident, etc. [5] Additional affirmation of an incident indicates that sexual assaults are more falsely reported than other crimes, and therefore require supplemental evidence in order to be afforded university attention.  Other schools that have stood in a negative light over the past year include Amherst College, Yale University, University of Notre Dame, Harvard University (again), and others. Accusations range from improper treatment of sexual assault cases (Amherst, Notre Dame), a hostile environment that discriminate against females (Yale), and unfair judicial proceedings for sexual assault victims (Harvard).

Because of the sensitive nature of sexual assault, the low reporting and sentencing rate, and the tendency of our society to victim-blame and weight the denial of an offender more than the claim of a victim, a lower standard of evidence makes up for years of oppression that survivors have had to handle at the hands of the justice system. According to Murphy, since so many highly-ranked, prestigious institutions have been accused of violating victims’ rights, raising the standard of evidence required to convict an alleged perpetrators will only exacerbate all of the existing ways schools are failing to provide justice for rape victims. Another factor to consider is the pervasive rape culture that cloaks college campuses, which often encourages the questioning of the victim instead of the perpetrator and often denies the victim the emotional, physical, and mental justice they seek. In environments that so clearly favor perpetrators and not victims, a lower standard of evidence would encourage more victims to come forward as there would be a greater change they would actually be believed and treated with respect.

Additionally, opponents claimed that since the preponderance standard is enforced in cases involving race, religion, and ethnicity, it would logically also be applied to matters of sex discrimination.

However, the act remains landmark legislation in the movement to change national attitudes towards sexual assault. The components of the act that still remain with the act will be implemented starting in March of 2014, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the Kitty Genovese rape and murder. Kitty Genovese was a young woman who lived in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of New York who was raped and murdered right outside of her home on March 14, 1964. What drew so much attention to the case was that several people, the exact number of which is disputed, either heard or saw her attack and did nothing to stop the crime. Genovese was stabbed once and cried out for help; her attacker left the scene, but came back with a disguise and proceeded to rape and then murder her. [6] If action had been taken after her first attack, there is a good chance she would have survived.

The case clearly demonstrated the importance of bystander intervention and sexual assault prevention education. Clearly, teaching bystander intervention in schools and colleges is critical to stopping sexual violence, and the mandate in Campus SaVE that requires bystander intervention and prevention programs in colleges represents a huge step towards attaining safer campuses. Evaluation of previous sexual assault prevention programs have shown mixed results, but recent research has shown that programs conducted by student leaders in particular have been successful in increasing reporting and reducing sexual violence. Successful programs are generally student-led, focus on that causes of sexual violence on that specific campus, communicate skills to identify and reduce sexual violence, and attempt to change attitudes and behaviors towards sexual violence[7]. If properly implemented, this provision of the Campus SaVE Act could significantly reduce sexual violence on college campuses across the country and prevent the apathy that caused the March 14th, 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese and thousands of other rapes and murders than have occurred since.

[1] Seghetti, Lisa M., and Jerome P. Bjelopera. “
R42499.pdf.” Congressional Research Service. N.p.: CRS Report for Congress,
2012. Congressional Research Service. Web. 10 June 2013.

[2] Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SaVE Act) Summary. Stetson Law,
n.d. Web. 10 June 2013. <

[3] Ibid

[4] “Campus ‘Safety’ Bill Endangers Rape Prosecutions.” Women’s News., 17 May 2013. Web. 10 June 2013. <

[5] Murphy, Wendy. “Using Title IX’s “Prompt and Equitable” Hearing
Requirements to Force Schools to Provide Fair Judicial Proceedings to
Redress Sexual Assault on Campus.” New England Law Review 40.1007 (2006):
n. pag. Print.

[6] Rasenberger, Jim. “Kitty, 40 Years Later.” New York Times [New York] 8 Feb.
2004: n. pag. New York Times. Web. 10 June 2013. <

[7] Banyard, Victoria, Mary Moynihan, and Maria Crossman. “Reducing Sexual Violence
on Campus: The Role of Student Leaders as Empowered Bystanders.” Journal of
College Student Developement 50.4 (2009): 446-57. Project Muse. Web. 20
June 2013. <


Underreporting of Rape in Minority Communities


Every year in the United States, there are about 207, 754 victims of sexual assault. 97% of rapists will never spend one day in jail. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced a sexual assault in their lifetime. Every 2 minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. These frightening statistics demonstrate the scope of sexual violence in the United States, and each one leads to one of the most shocking, that for every 100 sexual assaults, roughly 54 go unreported. On college campuses, where sexual assault rates climb as high as 1 in 4 women having experienced assault, studies have shown that 95% of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported[1] ( An oppressive culture of victim-blaming, fear of the perpetrator, and the sensitive nature of sexual assault prevent all victims from reporting the crimes committed against them to local or campus authorities. For minority groups and women of color in particular, there are very different social challenges incurred when reporting an incidence of rape.  As racial minorities have experienced a long history of racism and sexual exploitation in the United States, sexual crimes against women of color have been normalized and offensive racial and gender stereotypes have steadily facilitated the oppression of minorities using sexual violence as a tool.

Before exploring the intersection of race and gender as it relates to sexual violence, it’s important to define the similarities between rape and racism. Both ugly phenomena oppress victims with power, dominance, and control: rapist and racists alike involve one “dominant” party to suppress the rights of a “weaker” party using coercion and/or violence. Both promote myth rather than fact by playing upon incorrect stereotypes, such as “she was asking for it” or “black men are criminals”. Both are furthered by silence that is masked by fear of rebuttal and backlash, and both have played a very significant role in the formative history of our nation. ([2]

Here is a chart of the lifetime rape/attempted rape rate for women, by race.

All women: 17.6%
White women: 17.7%
Black women: 18.8%
Asian Pacific Islander women: 6.8%
American Indian/Alaskan women: 34.1%
Mixed race women: 24.4%[3]


Clear from this breakdown is that Native American women are raped at the highest rate, followed by mixed race women. Black women are raped at a slightly higher rate than white women, and Asian American women are raped at the lowest rate, at 6.8%. However, these figures could be underestimated by the stereotypes that contribute to underreporting such as the myth of the wild, sexual black “Jezebel” or the submissive, deserving Asian woman.[4] (

While there isn’t extensive research as to the reporting rates of Asians or Hispanics, there have been several studies regarding the racial implications of reporting for Native American and African American rape victims. The intertwined sexual and racial experience of both groups plays an important role in the way others perceive survivors and perpetrators of these races, which affects reporting rates and the healing journey of victims of these races. Both the experiences of African American women and Native American women have been consistent with the theory of “rapability”, the extent to which a person’s rape is considered a legitimate act of violence or simply a casual encounter of which a weak, insignificant person was dominated. [5]

As slaves both in the fields and within the home, African-American women were considered less virtuous and “eliciting” of institutional sexual abuse, sexual assault, and rape for which perpetrators – often the victims’ owners – faced virtually no penalties for their behaviors. After federal US laws began to prohibit importations of Africans, slave-owners systematically raped black women in order to produce more slaves for the now-depleted “workforce”. Even as America transitioned into a post-slavery era, black men accused of raping white women were often executed or heavily punished while the rapes of African-American women went virtually unnoticed.[6] Today, studies have shown that if the victim of rape is an African-American woman, the sentence for the assailant will be lighter than the sentence given to the assailant of a white woman. In 1989, immediately after the infamous rape of the Central Park Jogger, a white woman that worked on Wall Street, a nameless black woman was raped and forced to jump from a twenty-one story building, and received barely any of the media attention that was so fixated on the minority youths wrongly accused of raping the Jogger. Both attacks were equally as violent and horrifying, yet received vastly variant degrees of attention from the media.[7] (

Native American/American Indian women have also been subjected to a violent, oppressive sexual identity as defined by other “dominant” genders and races. From America’s beginnings came the mass rapes of thousands of Native American women at the hands of Christopher Columbus and other North American explorers that “raped and pillaged” their way into conquering the new found land. Research amongst Native American survivors has shown that an attack, sexual or otherwise, is an attack on his or her identity as a Native. From many colonial narratives, it has been established that colonists considered all Native people to be far from “real” people and deserving of murder and mistreatment. Native woman specifically experienced brutal rape as a result of the colonial perceptions that Native bodies were considered “polluted with sexual sin”, “dirty”, and “sexually violable”. [8]

Also essential to the Native American sexual experience is legal boundaries that have existed between victims and their perpetrators. Although 80% of sexual assaults against Native women are committed by a non-Native man or husband, tribal courts do not have jurisdiction to try non-Native Americans without specific authorization from Congress. With this in mind, sexual predators frequent Native American reservations, especially during hunting season; there’s virtually no action that a tribal court can take against a perpetrator of sexual violence that is a non-Native American. This violent freedom most definitely contributes to the high rate of sexual violence perpetrated against Native American women[9]( However, this unjust power dynamic has shifted since the passage of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which empowers tribal courts to use their jurisdiction to prosecute for against non-Native American people that perpetrate domestic violence against Native people[10] (

The stereotypes of minority women alluded to previously within this article have also prevailed throughout history as strongly contributing to the underreporting of minority rape. The perception of minority women as “rapeable” and minority men as “angry” or “violent” is perpetrated by the following stereotypes that further oppress these already-marginalized communities. For example, the “Jezebel” stereotype dictates that black women are sexually promiscuous, immoral, and always desire sexual advances. This image is especially reinforced in portrayals of black women “jiggling and gyrating” in rap and hip-hop music videos. Also known by names like “hoochie”, “freak”, and “hoodrat”, “Jezebels” are portrayed as women that can’t possibly be raped as they are consistently exposing their bodies in an explicitly sexual way. Our communities are less inclined to accept that a woman, especially a black woman, is capable of simultaneously expressing her sexuality and being raped. Stereotypes that accompany black men – that they are “sex-crazed” “violent” and “criminals” have reinforced the racist notions that all rapists are black men. Because of the police brutality and racial profiling that black men have experienced, it may be incredibly difficult for a black woman to bring more negative attention upon the black community by reporting a rape by a black man. The statistics corroborate this dilemma: for every one white woman that reports her rape, five do not; for every black woman that reports her rape, fifteen do not[11].

“Intra-racial rape can feel like a rift between a woman and her people. The survivor is cast into silence not so much a by a desire to protect those men who perpetrated, but to protect the black men in her life who she loves, respects and trusts[12].” (

A prime example of this would be the 1991 Mike Tyson rape case. The case was fraught with racial stereotypes that portrayed Mike Tyson as “oversexed, prone to violent and aggressive behavior, and dumb as a brick wall”, the quintessential “Black rapist” and Desiree Washington, the sexually promiscuous “Jezebel” that should have expected the rape and for whom the rape couldn’t have been as traumatic as it would have been for a white woman.[13]

“In effect Fuller (Tyson’s defense attorney) was saying to the jury: Tyson is your worst nightmare – a vulgar, socially inept, sex-obsessed black athlete. And any woman who would voluntarily enter a hotel suite with him must have known what she as getting into. In other words, both principals were animals – the black men for the crudity of his sexual demands, the black woman for eagerly acceding to them.”

Another example of the racism that compliments accusations of rape against black men would be the Rosewood, Florida massacre of 1920. A black man that lived near Rosewood was accused of raping a white woman in a neighboring town, and the entire village was burned down by an angry mob who pursued the people living in the town for a whole week until they were all killed or had escaped by train. The town of Rosewood is now completely destroyed and serves as a tragic memory of the consequences of a white woman accusing a black man of rape. (,%20Historian%20Vol%2058(3)%20Spring%201996.pdf)

Native American women have faced similar stereotypes that have oppressed them from reporting their rapes and created an unequal power dynamic in courts that undervalue their rapes in court. Similar to black women, Native American women have been portrayed as “property”, promiscuous, and immoral; therefore, their rapes weren’t/aren’t valued the same way white women’s rapes were/are. Rooted in this stereotype is that face that women of color have historically worked outside the home and therefore are viewed as “unchaste” because their presence in the outside world, opposed to staying at home with the children, implied they were “accessible’ and inviting sexual advances.

These perceptions of race and rape are still prevalent today, and prevent all genders and races from receiving the protection and justice from courts they deserve as Americans. In order to fight these incorrect portrayals of race, it is critical that we change our own personal prejudices regarding race and rape and equalize prevention and response efforts for all races.

[1] “Statistics.” Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. RAINN, n.d. Web. 11 July
2013. <

[2] “How Are They Connected?” Racism and Rape. Men Stopping Rape, n.d. Web. 11 July
2013. <

[3] “Statistics.” Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. RAINN, n.d. Web. 11 July
2013. <

[4] “Race and Rape: Keeping Racism Out of Your Campaign.” SAFER. Students Active For
Ending Rape, n.d. Web. 11 July 2013. <

[5] Olive, Victoria C. “Sexual Assault against Women of Color.” Journal of Student
Research 1 (2012): 1-9. Print.

[6] Olive, Victoria C. “Sexual Assault against Women of Color.” Journal of Student
Research 1 (2012): 1-9. Print.

[7] In Week of an Infamous Rape, 28 Other Victims Suffer [New York City] 29 May
1989. New York Times. Web. 11 July 2013. <

[8] Olive, Victoria C. “Sexual Assault against Women of Color.” Journal of Student
Research 1 (2012): 1-9. Print.

[9] Erdrich, Louise. “Rape on the Reservation.” The Opinion Pages. The New York
Times, n.d. Web. 11 July 2013. <

[10] Gillette, Jodi, and Charlie Galbraith. “President Signs 2013 VAWA – Empowering
Tribes to Protect Native Women.” The White House President Barack Obama.
The White House, n.d. Web. 11 July 2013. <

[11] West, Carolyn. “Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and Their Homegirls: Developing an
‘Oppositional Gaze’ Toward the Images of Black Women.” Dr. Carolyn West.
Carolyn West, n.d. Web. 11 July 2013. <

[12] “Race and Rape: Keeping Racism Out of Your Campaign.” SAFER. Students Active For
Ending Rape, n.d. Web. 11 July 2013. <

[13] Burrell, Darci. “Myth, Stereotype, and the Rape of Black Women.” UCLA Women’s
Law Journal 4.1 (1993): n. pag. Print.


Comprehensive Sex Education as a Sexual Assault Prevention Tool



Comprehensive sex education is often overlooked as a feasible sexual assault prevention tool. Whenever educating against any kinds of negative or harmful behaviors, it’s important to provide examples of a healthy alternative. For example, when teaching nutrition, we would only paint half a portrait if we simply told people not to overindulge in sweets and fatty foods. It’s critical to also include the importance of consuming plentiful amounts of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, and highlight how fun and enjoyable healthy eating can be.

Providing an example of what healthy sexuality is and how to safely express sexuality is a powerful tool in the fight against sexual violence; it empowers teens to clearly define their own sexuality and know how to speak up if their sexual boundaries are violated. Abstinence-only education contributes to sexual violence, namely, by ignoring it. In addition to this, abstinence-only education reinforces gender stereotypes and discourages survivors from coming forward by teaching that premarital sex is corrupting, regardless of whether it was consensual or not.

Traditional abstinence-only education, which is practiced in thirty-seven states, emphasizes many different variations of the same message: that abstinence is the only true form of pregnancy, STI, and HIV/AIDS prevention. Other teaching points include educating students [primarily girls] on how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol/drug use increases vulnerability to sexual intercourse; reiterating that a mutually faithful, monogamous, heterosexual relationship is the only expected standard of human sexual activity; and emphasizing the social, psychological, and health gains abstinence provides for unmarried people ( Under the Clinton and Bush administrations, between 1996 and 2007, over 1.7 billion state and federal dollars were channeled into abstinence-only education in public school. With the passage of Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, funding for abstinence-only education programs was extended for five more years but tapered to $50 million per year. The ACA now provides $75 million per year over five years for sex education programs that teach both abstinence and contraception as methods to prevent pregnancy and STIs. (

Regardless of one’s personal beliefs towards premarital sex and abstinence, there are simple truths about abstinence-only education that must be recognized in order to forge ahead with sexual violence prevention education. For one, abstinence-only education completely ignores sexual assault and rape because programs do not discuss consent to any extent. These programs merely emphasize that premarital sex is wrong, but assume that all sexual encounters are consensual and never acknowledge the fact that consent may not be present in any sexual situation, marital or not. This undermines the idea of enthusiastic, communicated consent and makes no distinction between premarital sex that was consensual and premarital sex that was forced or coerced, which leads to a second point. Abstinence-only education encourages the notion that all premarital sex is wrong, which leads to victim blaming and a false sense of guilt among sexual assault survivors. A prime example of this is the case of Elizabeth Smart, a human trafficking victim and sexual violence prevention advocate who was kidnapped and continually raped at the age of 14. According to Smart, abstinence-only education prevented her from attempting to run away because the emphasis on sexual purity and virginity led her to believe that she was “dirty and filthy” for being raped. She cited an incidence of abstinence-only education in which a teacher who compared premarital sex to “a chewed up piece of gum”.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”


Abstinence-only education promotes a culture that further marginalizes sexual assault survivors and discourages them from reporting their incidents or speaking out against the violence. Similarly, abstinence-only education disempowers bystanders from stopping sexual violence when they see it by neglecting to set an example of healthy sexuality. Bystander intervention is one of the most successful forms of sexual violence prevention, but if young people do not understand the differences between healthy, consensual sexuality and sexual assault – if it’s all considered to be equally bad – they will not know how to step up and speak out.

Finally, abstinence-only education promotes stereotypical gender roles in a way that facilitates sexual assault. Abstinence-only education curriculums have infamously endorsed stereotypical gender norms by representing boys as aggressive sexual pursuers and girls as passive recipients that have the responsibility to resist all sexual advances. The language of the curriculum has changed slightly since the archaic Bush-era education manuals that advocated “assertive refusal skills” for girls and gentle breakup skills for boys; however, abstinence-only education curricula still portray girls as either the potential victims that need protection or manipulative temptresses that misuse their feminine wiles to achieve their goals. Gender norms, in any form, are known to perpetuate sexual violence as they generally promote male dominance and female submission, which are the tenants of stereotypical hetero-normative sexual violence. For example, in the original example of hyper-traditional gender roles, students are led to believe that men pushing sex on unwilling females is the norm, and healthy, enthusiastic, two-way consent is nonexistent. In the second example, the undertones of “benevolent sexism” promote the notion that girls need to be protected by “good guys” from sexual advances and once again, that they lack the agency to express their own form of sexuality. This kind of underhanded sexism creates a dichotomy of “good girls”, girls who abstain from sex and need protection from “good guys”, and “bad girls”, girls who freely express their sexuality and sexual desires and deserve to be abused by “bad guys” because they dare to initiate sex. Only good girls deserve protection from good guys. (Stereotypes in Four Current AOUM Sexuality Education Curricula: Good Girls, Good Boys, and the New Gender Equality, American Journal of Sexuality Education).

Enforcing stereotypical gender-roles also encourages victim-blaming and places the responsibility for managing “wild” male sexuality squarely on the shoulders of females. By teaching girls how to reject sexual advances and dress appropriately to discourage male attention, these curricula imply that girls are ultimately responsible for controlling male sexuality and therefore are to blame when sexual violence occurs. This discourages sexual assault survivors, male OR female, from coming forward and disclosing cases of sexual assault, as they feel like they will be held responsible for not controlling the actions of the perpetrator. (American Journal of Sexuality Education)

How, then, can comprehensive sex education serve as a sexual violence prevention tool? Comprehensive sex education is defined as covering the concepts of healthy and enthusiastic consent, both female and male contraception, protection from HIV/AIDS and other STIs, sexual assault, homosexual and queer sexual intercourse, sex positivity, and options to pursue in the case of an unplanned pregnancy. This kind of curriculum sets an example for what healthy sexual behavior is and differentiates between consensual sexuality and sexual assault, instead of labeling all premarital sexual behavior as wrong. By learning about healthy expressions of sexuality and consent, students will be empowered to speak out against acts of sexual violence inflicted upon them or their peers. Learning about the aforementioned topics in a neutral, educational venue like school will provide a clear impression of sexuality for teens that may be confused by the many conflicting messages perpetrated by our media and society. Instead of acting on the images of sexuality shown in the media that often do conform to stereotypical gender roles and promote a lack of verbal enthusiastic consent as “sexy”, teens will be empowered with a scholastic definition of healthy sexuality and will choose to express their sexuality ethically. Additionally, comprehensive sex education teaches sexuality without underlying tones of gender stereotypes, and encourages all genders to embrace and express their sexuality safely. (

One example of preventive legislation that is bound to have a tremendously positive impact on sexual violence, child sexual abuse in particular, is Erin’s Law. Erin Merryn is a survivor of child sexual violence and is now an advocate for child sexual abuse prevention and education. Erin’s Law, if signed in as a bill in any given state, mandates child sexual abuse prevention education for grades pre-K through 5. Merryn strongly advocates for education so that children will be empowered with a voice to speak out against the atrocities committed against them; according to her, students are exposed to information about child sexual abuse far too late for them to take action against the perpetrators. She claims that the only preventive measures taken in schools now emphasize “stranger danger”, which is misguided given the overwhelming percentage of child sexual abuse survivors that know and trust the perpetrator. Her vision involves a comprehensive, age-appropriate program that teaches students the difference between “safe secrets” and “unsafe secrets” and “safe touch” and “unsafe touch”, and gives them the resources to report sexual abuse that may be occurring in or outside the home. Illinois was the first state to pass Erin’s law in February of 2011 and five states have followed suit. The law is still pending in ten more states. (

Comprehensive sex education encompasses every other kind of predominantly utilized prevention tool. When looking at sexual violence as a public health issue, comprehensive sex education is one of the most effective tactics to reduce the prevalence and severity of sexual violence. When looking at sexual violence as a social issue, comprehensive sex education is one of the most effective ways to change apathetic, victim-blaming, or oppressive attitudes towards the issue. From any standpoint, comprehensive sex education would improve the healing processes of existing sexual assault survivors as well as prevent future assaults, uplifting the next generation in a sustainable, healthy way.