A bill that would have required Virginia schools teach high-schoolers about consent in relationships was shot down Wednesday in Richmond.
Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, a Democrat of Northern Virginia, thought her proposal to broaden sexual education to include the concept of consent, beginning in the 9th grade, was fairly straightforward.
“It’s all about starting earlier and talking about permission, and as we see there’s a rise in instances of sexual assault, and abuse, and unhealthy relationships," Filler-Corn said. "I think it’s important that we start teaching consent and what that means. What are we talking about? We’re talking about permission.”
But in a hearing Wednesday morning, members of an education subcommittee disagreed. Republican Delegate Mark Cole of Spotsylvania voiced concern that introducing the idea would imply to kids they could grant consent for sex at all.
“I know it’s important to teach people that you can’t have your way with somebody without their consent, however -- like I said -- the law currently does not empower someone who is under 18 years old to legally grant consent,” Cole said during the hearing.
Advocates urged lawmakers to view the bill as broader than just sexual consent, citing examples like handholding, or physical teasing.
But other lawmakers on the House Elementary and Secondary Education subcommittee agreed with Cole.
Delegate Brenda Pogge, a Republican from Norfolk, expressed concern for the context in which the material would be taught -- alongside information about illegal actions like dating violence and domestic abuse.
"I just want to make sure that, how this is being taught, is not that by giving consent all of these things are okay -- because they are not okay" said Brenda Pogge, a Republican from Norfolk. "It's so broad."
"I think the bill needs a little more work to be honest," said Delegate James LeMunyon, a Republican from Northern Virginia. "And I'm still not sure what's absent in the current curriculum."
The current family life curriculum includes teaching the definition of consent in the 10th grade, but the word is not mentioned anywhere else. Filler-Corn's legislation would have required that local school divisions incorporate the concept of consent into their lessons at all highschool grade levels, including freshman year.
But in a vote along party lines, the bill was killed.
After the vote, Filler-Corn had this to say:
“It’s disturbing, disappointing. I really thought that since this law would be in the Family Life Education section, we’re talking about the option for some families to opt out. Some of them liked the concept but felt like we weren’t quite ready, so I have my work cut out for myself. And I will be working with them and convincing them, and I think they’ll hear from their constituents as well.”
Filler-Corn says she’ll be back next year with similar legislation.