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Bill would require schools to teach details of consent in sex ed

Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, addresses the General Assembly.
State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) is sponsoring a bill in the state legislature that attempts to put a fuller definition of consent into the Illinois code detailing how schools must teach sex education. | Provided photo

Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois schools might soon be teaching a new, fuller definition of what it means to give sexual consent.

According to the U.S. Sexuality Information and Education Council, Illinois teens experience higher percentages of physically forced intercourse, physical dating violence and sexual dating violence than the national average.

“Teaching consent tells you that, ‘I have the right to have my own bodily autonomy, and somebody should respect that,’” said Brigid Leahy, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “It’s not my fault when somebody violates my person without me agreeing to it.”

Language supporting this idea can be found in Chicago Democratic Rep. Ann Williams’ bill filed last week, which attempts to put a fuller definition of consent into the Illinois code detailing how schools must teach sex education.

Surrounded by a group of lawmakers and advocates including Leahy, Williams spoke about House Bill 3550 during a news conference Thursday and explained a few of the quirks of Illinois’ sex education in the process.

By law, public K-12 schools in Illinois don’t have to teach sex education. Those that choose to, however, must follow the state’s requirement that curriculum be “developmentally and age-appropriate,” “medically accurate,” “evidence-based” and “complete.”

That means teaching about both abstinence and contraceptive methods, with information supported by valid, accurate research and facts.

Williams’ bill would add a requirement for schools that teach sex education, expanding the definition of consent from the brief treatment it was originally given — “[there must be] discussion on what constitutes sexual consent” — to a detailed list of what consent means and how it might show up during a sexual encounter.

The proposed law includes, among other things, that “consent is a freely given agreement to sexual activity”; that “consent to one … sexual activity does not constitute consent” to another; that “lack of verbal or physical resistance,” nor a person’s “manner of dress,” does not mean consent; and that a person cannot consent if they “can’t understand the nature of the activity” due to drugs or alcohol.

Of the 24 states that mandate sex education in public schools, only eight require a discussion of consent.

HB 3550 awaits further assignment to committee but has garnered 25 co-sponsors since Feb. 15.