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Train Children on Sexual Violence Prevention

Melanie Bennett, Esq., ARM-E
March 2024
Use an age-appropriate curriculum to teach K-12 students to help identify, prevent, and report sexual violence.

Sexual assault among youth in K-12 schools can be a hidden but chronic problem. Age-appropriate sexual violence education can teach K-12 students to help identify, prevent, and report sexual violence. Helping children learn to identify and prevent sexual violence is particularly important when many children are socially delayed from school closures during the pandemic.

Experts recommend educators introduce the concepts of consent and prevention early and build a curriculum over time.

School and community educators can teach sexual violence prevention and consent as:

  • Standalone trainings
  • During school-year orientation
  • In health or sexual education courses
  • Through other opportunities and trainings throughout the year (ideally)

Vary prevention curriculum topics by grade range.

Kindergarten Through Fifth Grade

A common misconception is elementary school students are too young to receive education relating to human sexuality. At this age, consider centering developmentally appropriate education around basic topics of consent such as:

  • Bodily autonomy
  • The right to say “no”
  • The meaning of consent
  • Where and to whom to report anyone who violates their autonomy 

Sixth Through Eighth Grade

Students start forming romantic relationships around ages 11 to 13, so that can be a good time to address intimate partner violence. Explain what it is, how to recognize it, and what to do if it occurs. Middle schools can enhance their consent education programs by covering:

  • State-specific definitions of consent and statutory rape
  • Examples of what is and isn’t consent in the context of sexual activity

Consider using the Love is Respect Middle School Curriculum as a toolkit to discuss healthy relationships.

Ninth Through 12th Grade

Over a quarter of U.S. high school students have had sex, according to a 2021 CDC survey on Youth Risk Behavior. For this reason, consider training them on consent, sexual violence, and reporting, similar to training college students receive.

This training might include when a person is incapable of giving sexual consent due to age, incapacitation, or intellectual disability. Additionally, consider covering the difference between intoxication and incapacitation. Note that although intoxication doesn’t preclude consent, many sexual situations without consent involve intoxication of the perpetrator or victim.

Additional high school training topics include:

  • School and jurisdiction definitions of sexual violence, relationship violence, stalking, and consent
  • Examples of how your school defines what is and isn’t consent
  • School, law enforcement, and confidential reporting options for student victims of sexual violence
  • Your school’s sexual misconduct policies and procedures

High school educators can also use the Love is Respect High School Curriculum for additional training ideas.

The Influence of Technology and Pornography

Unrealistic and misleading information on sexuality — including pornography — is easily accessible online and affects sexual development. Pornography is pervasive and students commonly view it at all school levels using their phones and computers.

Starting around sixth grade, consider countering the inaccurate information students get online. Concepts you might address include:

  • The types of non-consensual sexual activity that exist online
  • The permanence of online sexual activity; it generally lives in perpetuity, regardless of privacy settings or software promising to erase content after a limited time
  • Minors possibly being charged with creating and possessing child pornography
  • Requiring relationship partners to provide social media passwords as a form of abuse

Tap Community Resources

Community resources can be a good place to find training topics for groups requiring specific expertise. Nonprofit organizations and resource centers often make presentations at schools for free or at a reduced cost. They can cover topics such as gender identity and sexual orientation, technology and cyberbullying, and reporting to law enforcement.

State Law Restrictions

Several states instituted laws banning or restricting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at public institutions. Consult legal counsel to determine your state’s applicable law and determine the extent to which your school may provide sexual violence prevention lessons covering topics such as gender identity and sexual orientation.


Additional Resources

Deborah Roffman Sex & Sensibility

Love Is Respect

CDC: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States (2021)

Department of Education: Safe Place to Learn Resource Package

Learning Courage: Prevention and Training

The Rowan Center: Sexual Violence Prevention Through Education

Lauren’s Kids: Curriculum

Signs of Hope: Education

Cleveland Rape Crisis Center: For Students

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