Editorial: America’s sexual education deserves an ‘F’

The rape trial involving a then 15-year-old girl and 18-year-old Owen Labrie at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire has officially ended — what have we learned?

We know that a predatory sexual culture persists amongst our nation’s youngest, most elite scholars who believe girls are animals to be obtained and “slayed.” We know that this is not the first nor last high-profile high school rape case we will see in media’s spotlight.

We know that Labrie is no longer enrolled at Harvard University, where he was destined to attend before a jury cleared him of rape charges Friday and convicted him of lesser sex offenses.

We do not know what misconceptions the hundreds of thousands of students who will go on to college this year have about sexual relationships. Can they identify a sexual assault and tell us the meaning of consent? Is saying ‘no,’ causing a conflict to them, or is it exercising their right over their bodies?

Had Labrie attended a public New Hampshire school, he would have received a broad sexual education. New Hampshire requires health and sex education, teachings on HIV/AIDS and STDs and education that follows Core Curriculum standards. Because Labrie attended a private high school, it’s hard to determine what kind of sexual education he received.

According to The National Conference of State Legislators, only 22 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education, only 33 states and the District of Columbia require HIV/AIDS instruction and only 19 states require sex education to be medically, factually or technically accurate, as of Jan. 1, 2015.

The misinformation that high schools can, at times, foster follows students into their college careers. Our nation fails its youth when there are no national standards set for sexual education.

A 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study discovered that more than 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur in either August, September, October or November — at the beginning of many college careers. Researchers described this finding as the “Red Zone,” explained by The New York Times as “a period of vulnerability for sexual assaults, beginning when freshmen first walk onto campus until Thanksgiving break.”

Universities are not entirely helpless — they can work to combat rape culture.  Though, often they miss preventing “red zone rapes,” and they find that there’s not much they can do about the problem once it reaches their ranks. There is an optimal time to address sexual assault — when students are still in secondary education and are enrolled in sexual education courses.

A 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found that roughly one in four girls will become pregnant at least once by their 20th birthday. Though young people ages 15 to 24 only represent 25 percent of the sexually active population, they acquire half of all new STIs, amounting for 9.8 million new cases a year.

These statistics are the result of the lacking cohesion in sexual education — also exemplified when college students exhibit hazy sexual knowledge.

The Washington Post discovered, in a poll it conducted with the Kaiser Family Foundation, that 25 percent of young women and seven percent of young men faced unwanted sexual attention in college. Forty-six percent said it was unclear whether sexual activity without clear consent from both parties was sexual assault.

An infatuated 15-year-old girl accepted an invitation from a senior for a romantic encounter and a school tradition. She thought they would make out. They ended up doing more. Foggy events, teenage pride and confusion were ultimately drawn out in the national eye — but they never needed to be. When this misinformation propogates into tragic mistakes, unaware students can fall victim to scarring, confusing rapes and painful public trials.

If you or someone you know may has suffered a sexual assault, there is help nearby. The University Counseling Center offers specialized counseling as well as an outreach peer education program called Let’s RAVE (Let’s Raise Awareness and Victim Empowerment).