Reform Alberta's Sexual Education Curriculum to Encompass Consent and Sexual Assault

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I graduated from high school in Alberta in 2015. I completed the Career and Life Management 20 (CALM) course in grade 10. As a part of CALM, we received a lesson in sexual education from an educator from a local sexual health resource center. I remember learning about how to prevent pregnancy and contracting STIs but don't remember learning too much about consent, different types of abuse and what to do when one has experienced sexual assault.

September 2015 marked the start of my first year at Queen's University. I'd heard news stories about the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses in North America, but I never thought that I, or anyone I knew, would ever experience it. Then I learned that one of my closest friends at Queen's had been assaulted during her third week of university. Luckily, she had heard of what is commonly known as a rape kit and made the decision herself to go to the hospital. A "rape kit" is a tool used by healthcare professionals to collect DNA evidence following an assault. If one chooses to access a kit, they are also offered access emergency contraception and other medications to help stop certain STIs from fully entering the system. The scary thing is I never learned what to do in the event that I or a friend were to experience sexual assault. The only reason I now know what to do in the event of assault is because my friend was raped, not because I learned it in my sexual education course.

The following is a quote from my friend, whom I shall keep anonymous, about her experience: “I had heard what a rape kit was from Tumblr and took note of it in case I ever had a friend in such a situation. I never thought the person needing a rape kit would be me. After being raped at a party, I luckily stumbled upon two girls who brought me to campus staff at my university. It was then that I knew, if I ever wanted to press charges in the future, I should go to the hospital as soon as possible for a rape kit. Although the decision was hard, I am so glad that I did it. When I got there, I found out that not only is DNA collected, but medications such as HIV post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) could be given to me to help prevent HIV from reaching my bloodstream if I was exposed to it during the assault. I was lucky enough to know about a rape kit and have access to such resources. In an ideal world, no one would ever go through what I and so many others have experienced. However, rape and sexual assault does happen and I hope that if someone experiences it that he or she will at least have learned about a rape kit.”

Sexual assault can affect anyone at any time, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. According to Alberta's Minister of Education, Hon. David Eggen, the province is currently undergoing a curriculum redesign of the CALM course to focus it more on health and wellness. We need to speak up and let our legislators know that Alberta students deserve proper knowledge about consent, sexual abuse, and assault.

While it is critical to teach students about how to cope with the aftermath of sexual violence, it is equally as important to teach them about consent. No one ever has the right to touch another’s body without their permission. Students must understand that renewed consent is required with each sexual activity that ensues. Consent is not only required out of principle, but also by Canadian law. It is critical that students understand the legal aspects of consent and how it plays a role in healthy sexual encounters.

To address this critical issue, I ask that the Alberta government take the following measures:

1) Teach students about the value of consent and when it is valid/invalid (i.e., how the role of drugs/alcohol can negate consent). Students should be taught exactly what constitutes consent under Canadian law. Additionally, students should be informed of their right to say "no" to unwanted sexual interactions and should be empowered to do so.

2) Integrate information about sexual assault into Alberta's sexual health education classes. This means addressing what constitutes sexual assault (which can occur in forms other than heterosexual intercourse), what to do in the event that an assault occurs (e.g., getting a sexual assault evidence kit, also known as a "rape kit"), what the victim's options are (e.g., pressing charges/not pressing charges and other legal options), and where they can go to get follow-up medical and psychological assistance.

3) Ensure that schools convey this information to students consistently across the province. Every child should receive the exact same quality of education. This applies to one's sexual health education, too.

4) Develop an explicit set of learning outcomes and a framework that can be consistently followed by all sexual health classes in Alberta. Ensure that these learning outcomes are explicit and easy to understand by parents, students, and teachers.

5) Ensure that the new curriculum is inclusive for all. Consent is necessary for all sexual encounters, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender of the parties involved.

6) Require instructors who teach about sexual health be trained to do so. There is currently no legislation mandating that teachers who teach Career and Life Management be trained to teach the course. This applies to the sexual health component of the course. It is both legal and feasible for a teacher with no professional training in how to deliver information about sexual health to do so.

7) Post-secondary education institutions in Alberta should mandate that all incoming students (including first-year students and transfer students) should undergo a mandatory discussion about consent, the reality of sexual assault, and the resources available to those who may experience sexual violence.

8) Require all post-secondary institutions across Alberta (and the rest of Canada, for that matter) to develop sexual assault policies to help combat the prevalence of sexual violence.

Sexual violence is a horrible reality that too many Canadian students will face. Our government has the power to make the new curriculum more informative and useful to all of Alberta's students. Tell Rachel Notley, Education Minister David Eggen, and your MLA that your sexual health education matters!

You can find this campaign on social media under the name Right2Know. You can find it on Facebook at facebook.com/Right2KnowAlberta as well as on Twitter and Instagram at @Right2KnowAB. Our website is www.right2knowab.ca For inquiries, please email right2knowalberta@gmail.com.



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