Illinois bill would require sex education programs to emphasize consent

Lawmakers in the Illinois House passed a bill on Thursday that would require schools that offer sexual education to include a detailed definition of consent, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Illinois does not require sex education and while schools that do teach it are required to include themes such as consent, it is not defined by current state law.

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State Rep. Ann Williams (D), the bill’s main sponsor, also noted that there is no instruction for educators on how to teach students about the issue.

“Consent is much more complex a topic than ‘no means no,’ ” she said. “It looks a lot different if someone is in a position of trust and authority ... or if there is alcohol or drugs.”

Williams celebrated the bill’s passage in the state House on Twitter.

“I am so thankful to the brave survivors, advocates and prevention educators who have taught me that consent is a complex topic, far from black and white, that our children deserve to learn in a fully comprehensive manner,” the lawmaker wrote.

The bill, which now moves on to the state Senate, would provide schools with a set of mandated teaching points on consent, the Tribune noted.

These points would include how a person cannot consent if they are intoxicated or asleep.

“Consent is a freely given agreement to sexual activity,” the bill states. 

The Tribune noted that the bill also specifies what factors cannot be mistaken as consent for sexual activity, such as someone’s clothing choices or past sexual history.

“Consent to one particular sexual activity does not constitute consent to other types of sexual activities," the bill says. 

Illinois is one of several states to move toward consent-based and sexual assault prevention-based education efforts in response to the #MeToo movement.

The Colorado state House in February passed a measure that would ban the teaching of abstinence-only sex education. 

Jennifer Driver, state policy director for the Sexuality Information and Education Council for the United States, told the Tribune that young students are often only learning about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

“Prevention only covers a small amount of what they need. Young people really need to learn about consent and healthy relationships,” Driver said.