The University Network

When Sex Ed Includes Consent, Less Students Are Assaulted

Students who receive sexual education that includes teaching refusal skills before college are less likely to be sexually assaulted while in college, a recent study finds.

In most cases, high school students who are taught to how to say “no” also go through other forms of sexual education, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STD) prevention and birth control instruction.

Those who received abstinence-only sexual instruction, however, did not show to have reduced likelihood of sexual assault.

This information comes at a pivotal time, as rates of reported sexual assault on college campuses have soared in recent years, and society is in desperate need for a solution.

“We need to start sexuality education earlier,” John Santelli, a professor of population and family health at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“It’s time for a life-course approach to sexual assault prevention, which means teaching young people — before they get to college — about healthy and unhealthy sexual relationships, how to say no to unwanted sex, and how to say yes to wanted sexual relationships,” he continued.

The researchers based their findings on a survey of 1,671 Barnard College and Columbia students conducted during the spring of 2016 and on in-depth interviews of college students conducted from September 2015 to January 2017.

In the interviews, many students recalled how their high school sexual education was awkward and incomplete, and didn’t provide sufficient information about sexual consent or sexual assault.

Through the findings, the researchers were able to tie multiple social and personal factors to a person’s likelihood of experiencing sexual assault while in college. They include experiences of physical abuse as a child, unwanted sexual contact before college, and starting to have sex and drink alcohol before the age of 18.

Although additional research is needed, the recent findings could help shape the future of sexual education, before and during college.

“In the broadest sense, our findings point to the underexplored opportunities for pre-college sexual assault prevention, including work with families, K-12 educational institutions, and religious communities,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

Revamping adolescent sexual education to teach young people the difference between healthy and unhealthy sexual relationships, as well as how to say no, is crucial to limiting sexual assault before and during college.

At the university level, the researchers suggest colleges should provide training in bystander intervention and sexual refusal skills.

“The protective impact of refusal skills-based sexuality education, along with previous research showing that a substantial proportion of students have experienced assault before entering college, underlines the importance of complementing campus-based prevention efforts with earlier refusal skills training,” Santelli said in a statement.