The 2019 Oklahoma legislature has, for a third legislative session in a row, failed to pass a law that would provide hope for sexual assault victims by teaching Oklahoma public school students consent education. This year, the Oklahoma legislature failed to pass “Lauren’s Law,” which would require public high school education on the meaning and importance of consent in healthy relationships. Consent education is one tool advocates believe will help eliminate sexual assaults. Advocates for Lauren’s Law say consent education teaches students how to communicate and resolve conflict and would ultimately reduce the number of sexual assaults. However, lawmakers failed, again, to see the importance of consent education for Oklahoma’s students.
Instead, Oklahoma’s current curriculum emphasizes abstinence, encouraging students to refrain from sexual activity all together. Advocates for Lauren’s Law say this is not enough. Abstinence-only education forces students to turn to the internet or their friends for information on healthy sexual relationships to fill the gaps for what is not taught in school. Programs that teach only abstinence fail to help students understand how to practice safe sex or have healthy sexual relationships. Without consent education, Oklahoma students may leave high school without understanding what consent is or that consent can be withdrawn at any time. Oklahoma also requires HIV/AIDS education, though it gives parents an opportunity to opt their children out of these lessons. Oklahoma’s current standards for sex education in schools leave broad gaps in what students need to know.
Lauren’s Law is named for Lauren Atkins, a former Norman High School student who was raped by a fellow student at a party in 2015. During her junior year at Norman High, Atkins attended a party where she drank alcohol with other Norman High students. Her assailant also attended the party, and Atkins remembers talking with and flirting with him early in the evening. After several hours of drinking and playing party games, Atkins became sick and blacked out. Atkins remembers vomiting in the bathroom. The next thing she remembers is waking up in a bedroom with her assailant raping her. In the following days, Atkins had many conversations with her assailant which revealed a shocking and poignant truth: he didn’t understand what consent was. Atkins’ assailant had never learned that no consent can be given if someone is too drunk to give consent. Charges against Atkins’ assailant were dismissed by the state. Atkins shared her story publicly in 2017, hoping to prevent future students from being assaulted and to raise awareness about consent.
In Oklahoma, one in six men and one in four women experience sexual assault before the age of 18. One in 11 Oklahoma high school students report being sexually assaulted in the past year. Statistics like these emphasize the importance of preventative consent education. Oklahoma law defines consent as “the affirmative, unambiguous and voluntary agreement to engage in a specific sexual activity during a sexual encounter which can be revoked at any time.” The law goes on to state that “consent cannot be:
- Given by an individual who:
- is asleep or is mentally or physically incapacitated either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, or
- is under duress, threat, coercion or force; or
- Inferred under circumstances in which consent is not clear including, but not limited to:
- the absence of an individual saying ‘no’ or ‘stop’, or
- the existence of a prior or current relationship or sexual activity.”
If you or your family have been harmed by sexual contact that was not consensual, Koller Trial Law may be able to help. Contact us for a free consultation.