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.



Campus Sexual Assault Petition to US Dept of Ed

Department of Education: Hold colleges accountable that break the law by refusing to protect students from sexual assault

Colleges and universities across the country are failing live up to their legal responsibilities to combat sexual violence and support survivors. Although the Department of Education (ED) is charged with enforcing relevant laws like Title IX, its reluctance to hold schools accountable has allowed unsafe campuses and institutional abuse to continue unchanged.


Travesty of Justice for Clergy Sexual Abuse Victims

Millstone Memorial, the nation’s first memorial in remembrance of clergy sex abuse survivors which was destroyed by a vandal for the second time in less than two years. PAVE Founder Angela Rose spoke at the rededication ceremony.

Media links: - Memorial to child victims of church sex abuse, destroyed twice, to be rededicated Sunday

Daily Record – Church rededicates monument to abuse survivors

Mendham Chester Patch – Monument ‘Expands Message’ With Third Dedication – Child sex abuse ‘as important as any other act of terrorism,’ crowd told at Mendham church

CBS NYC – Advocates Rededicate Sexual Abuse Victims’ Memorial Twice Hit By Vandals

Salem News – Twice Vandalized NJ Memorial to Clergy Sex Abuse Victims Rededicated in Special Ceremony

Travesty of Justice for Clergy Sexual Abuse Victims

Last Sunday in Mendham, NJ, I was a guest speaker at the rededication of the nation’s first memorial in remembrance of clergy sex abuse survivors, which was destroyed by a vandal for the second time in less than two years. The rededication ceremony was held in front of the damaged memorial outside of St Joseph’s Church, where former pastor James T. Hanley (who since has been defrocked) sexually abused more than sixty boys in the rectory.

How many news reports have you seen and heard of sexual abuse by priests? Countless. It has become practically normalized because it is so frequent. It needs to stop—and we as a nation need to come together with a unified voice to take stand.

We need to raise our voices in protest for the cover-ups, the victim blame, and the failure to protect our nation’s youth.

Now is the time. Sandusky, Catholic sexual abuse scandals, Steubenville: it is time for this nation to stand in solidarity to support sexual assault survivors and say, “No More.”

The time is NOW to stand together and be the voice for everyone who has been silenced by sexual violence.



Art for Awareness


Celebrities, musicians, poets and artists came together to lend their talent to shatter the silence of sexual violence at a multimedia event at the Red Bull Space in Soho produced by Rusted Blue Entertainment. Hundreds of participants enjoyed live performances, fine art silent auction, celebrity appearances including MTV’s Sarah Rice, down-home comfort food from Justin Timberlake’s restaurant Southern Hospitality, and sponsored drinks from High and Mighty Beer Co. and Berentzen. Contact us if you want to a host a PAVE’s Art for Awareness event in your community!

Steubenville Verdict

PAVE Founder Angela Rose talks about the verdict in the Steubenville, OH rape case…and the CNN media coverage of when the verdict was read. Sign the petition – click here!

Watch the CNN Coverage:

Leave your comments here – we want to hear from you!

Protect Our Defenders Podcast

PAVE Affiliate Protect Our Defenders is doing groundbreaking work on the issue of military sexual trauma. CLICK HERE to visit their website to learn more!

BREAKING NEWS:  Protect Our Defenders Testifies Before Senate Armed Services Hearing on Sexual Assaults in the Military – Click here

Their mission it to honor, support, and give voice to the brave men and women in uniform who have been raped or sexually assaulted by fellow service members. They seek to fix the military training, investigation and adjudication systems related to sexual violence, systems that often re-victimize survivors by blaming them while failing to prosecute perpetrators.

PAVE Founder Angela Rose spoke with Retired Staff Sgt. Colleen Bushnell on the Dialogue For Action call – click here to listen.

ABOUT Staff Sgt. Colleen Bushnell:

She is a national Military Sexual Trauma Survivor Advocate, motivated by her deep respect and love for all those who endeavor volunteer service in the U.S. military. She is a Lackland Airforce Base sexual trauma survivor and an Advocacy Board Member for Protect Our Defenders. In 2004, she was sexually assaulted, and upon her report, the offender committed suicide. Her life was never the same. Now, she is doing groundbreaking work to shatter the silence of military sexual violence! Click here for more info!

Race for Change!

2 Nonprofits Came Together to Bring Awareness to Child Abuse!

CLICK HERE for ABC 7 News – They broadcasted live from the race!



PAVE & It’s Our Little Secret – RACE FOR CHANGE


Sunday, April 21, 2013
Busse Woods – Schaumburg Illinois

Details will be avail online
7-8 am Race Day Packet Pick Up
(Same day registration is available)
8:30 am 10K Start
8:45 am 5K Run/1-Mile Walk Start
Awards Ceremony & Balloon Release will follow 

Busse Woods Trail (Paved course), Grove 5, Elk Grove Village, IL.
Water stations and bathrooms are available throughout the course.
Course map & addition information available at


Children 12 and under only.  All participating children will receive a prize.

To commemorate the lives affected from abuse, we will conduct a balloon release before Award Ceremony.  Children participating in 50 yard dash will receive one balloon. 

*All Registrants will receive a Dri-Fit Shirt and runner’s bag with Freebies!!

$35 10K Pre-Race Day $40 10K Race Day
$30 5K Pre-Race Day $35 5K Race Day
$35 1-Mile Walk for Family of 4
$25 1-Mile Walk Individual
$20 Students

Top 10/5K Run finishers in designated age groups will receive a medal.
Age groups: 11 and under, 12-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70 and older.

Overall 10K & 5K winners will receive awards and/or prizes for
1st place male and female, 2nd and 3rd place male and female winners will receive awards.  A prize to the overall runner for both 10K/5K Run male or female who ran for a Child(ren) will be awarded a one night stay at a TBD hotel/water park.  Great for family time! 

Race results will be available at

For race registration and event questions please contact:
Maebelle Obispo-Emery, 5K Coordinator
Tel: 847.651.9878 

2 Nonprofits Coming Together to Bring Awareness to Child Abuse!

The mission of It’s Our Little Secret (501c3) is to promote a healthy recovery for the
abused children & youth, and to stop the destructive future behavioral patterns of the
abused towards their own and other children.

Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE) is a multi-chapter national
501c3 nonprofit organization that uses education and action to shatter the silence of
sexual violence through targeted social, educational and legislative tactics.


International Women’s Day Panel

Violence Against Women: A Panel Making International Connections

In recognition of International Women’s Day, this panel of representatives of community and college groups will discuss the implications of gender-based violence.

Thank you to Northeastern, UIC and Loyola for partnering with PAVE and hosting these wonderful panel discussions!


Sexual Abuse Prevention – Erin’s Law

Pictured above: PAVE Founder Angela Rose & PAVE Ambassadors Taylor, Erin Merryn, Johnna Janis, and Sarah Rice from MTV.

CLICK HERE for tips to protect your kids from sexual abuse

CLICK HERE for an article in the Long Beach Telegram

Councilman Dee Andrews Joined Nationally Known Activists for Prevention of Sexual Abuse

LONG BEACH, CA – Two nationally recognized and outspoken survivors of sexual abuse joined
local Long Beach and Signal Hill leaders today Friday March 1st at the Boardroom Long Beach
Memorial Hospital 2801 Atlantic Ave, Long Beach. Angela Rose, Founder and Executive Director of the national nonprofit Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment (PAVE), and PAVE Ambassador and Glamour Magazine 2012 Woman of the Year Erin Merryn, who were invited by Long Beach Councilman Dee Andrews of the Sixth District, are both outspoken survivors of sexual abuse and travel the country shattering the silence and working to prevent sexual violence.

According to the US Department of Justice, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused. The pervasiveness coupled with the silence and shame surrounding these crimes continue to fuel this public health crisis. Many survivors of sexual abuse experience psychological and physical trauma, which not only creates cycles of violence, but is also extremely costly to tax payers. A study from the US Department of Justice found the cost of crime to victims is an estimated $450 billion a year when factors such as medical costs, lost earnings, pain, suffering, and lost quality of life are considered. Rape is the most costly to its victims, totaling a cost of $127 billion a year. Childhood sexual abuse is also a major risk factor for human sex trafficking and exploitation.

Key strategies for prevention and early intervention will be highlighted at this press event,
including Erin’s Law, created by Erin Merryn, which teaches children the difference of safe/unsafe touching along with safe/unsafe secrets. Erin’s Law has been enacted by the legislatures in five states with numerous other states’ lawmakers focused on enacting this important legislation, realizing that as a society, we must teach and empower our children.

Citing recent headlines such as the Sandusky, Los Angeles Unified School District, Boy Scouts, and Catholic Church incidents, Rose and Merryn jointly said “We have an obligation to protect our children with laws and policy that will empower our children and hold people accountable. We appreciate that Councilman Andrews took a leadership role as he knows sex abuse affects many in his district. He brought people together today so all of us can help victims shatter the silence. We need more leaders like the Councilman so our children are better protected. ”

Following the news conference, a luncheon open to the media will be held in the same location. Erin Merryn will present firsthand the discussions she had at The Winter Conference of the National Governor’s Association, as well as tangible tips for parents, teachers, and lawmakers that will help to protect our children. Merryn will be speaking this March at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s national conference, Safe to Compete: Protecting Child Athletes from Sexual Abuse.

PAVE Ambassadors Speak Out on Relationships!

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month!
CLICK HERE for more info and project ideas!