I still remember the anti-smoking and anti-drunk-driving campaigns my schools burned into my memory almost two decades ago.
When I was around 10 years old, a presenter showed us tar-covered pig lungs, hung like black pieces of pastrami in a butcher's shop. He told us that even one puff could damage our healthy pink pipes. Years later, in a high school assembly, some of my classmates re-enacted a booze-fuelled car crash using fake blood. I was terrified. Both messages were effective because they were shocking.
Though many of my peers went on to smoke and drive drunk, I do neither. While I can't directly attribute my behaviour to school messages, those graphic examples still stick with me as an adult. One of the best ways to shape a young person's mentality is to elicit an emotional response.
While this tactic has been expertly employed in public health campaigns, it's rarely applied to sexual education. When it comes to consent, we simply don't teach real-life, visceral examples that could lessen the number of teens who go on to commit these crimes.
Ontario's sex-ed curriculum is notoriously outdated. It was recently revamped for the first time since 1998 to include issues such as sexting and gender identity, but it's still insufficient when it comes to explaining that only "yes" means "yes."
According to the Ontario government's website, "consent" and "personal limits" aren't taught until Grade 9, when kids are 14. That's a few years after many kids have begun puberty, started to masturbate, watch porn, talk to their friends about sex and have relationships.
Those formative years are also when a toxic version of masculinity that frames women as mere sex objects begins to take hold in the minds of young men. The sex-ed curriculum should teach the details of real criminal cases to force kids about to enter high school to take consent seriously.
Reading the Stanford sex assault victim's letter to her rapist would be a good place to start.
The 23-year-old woman, whose identity is protected, recounts how she woke up on a hospital gurney with zero recollection of what had happened to her after she was raped while unconscious by a student of the elite school.
The statement is full of excruciating details about the assault and contains valuable lessons about consent.
She writes that when someone is "too drunk to speak English," it's wrong to have sex with them and that alcohol is no excuse for being a rapist.
She details how she has been tormented by constant nightmares, paranoia, a disdain for her own body and an inability to leave her house.
It would be much harder for a teenage boy to label a drunk girl "easy access" -- something I heard often at my high school -- after hearing the horrific aftermath of this woman's assault.
"The best way to shape a child's outlook on unhealthy or illegal behaviour is to involve their emotions."
Since teens often binge-drink together at parties, they should be taught how to stop a sexual assault. Teachers should use concrete examples to show students how to act when a friend's sexual behaviour becomes overly aggressive.
Teenage boys should be familiar with the Steubenville rape case, in which high school football players raped a 16-year-old while their buddies idly watched.
They should be told about Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year-old who killed herself after classmates circulated a photo of her being victimized in an alleged gang rape by four teenage boys. Being taught the specifics of a victim's trauma could counter the peer pressure and herd mentality that often fuel rape.
The best way to shape a child's outlook on unhealthy or illegal behaviour is to involve their emotions. The fear of consequence is extremely powerful. If you smoke, you'll blacken your lungs. If you commit sexual assault, you could end up in jail or cause your victim to take their own life. Schools shouldn't shy away from teaching the details of the damage done by sex without consent.
This column previously appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.
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