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Consent, consent, consent | Sex in the Suburbs
One thing is perfectly clear to me after hearing from several sources about an ex-volunteer basketball coach at Federal Way High School, who was recently charged with child molestation of a student: people are confused about consent.
Consent is still a widely misunderstood concept, and lack of education about this is one of the biggest gaps in sexuality education today. It’s also a topic that can cause a whole lot of trouble for those involved. Let’s review.
While the “age of consent” for sexual activity in Washington state is 16, that does not mean someone 16 or older can have sexual contact with anyone older than they are.
If you are a coach, teacher, boss — or in any position of power over another person — you should not have sexual contact with your student, athlete or employee, even if that person is 16 and legally able to consent to sexual activity.
You can look up the laws at www.kcsarc.org/pop/laws, and even download a card you can carry in your wallet to help remind you, and all that is good, but here’s what’s even more important.
We need to be talking and teaching about consent a whole lot more than we are.
Because we’re not talking and teaching about consent enough, there are people who think it’s the student’s fault this whole thing happened at Federal Way High School. There are people who think it was consensual. Let’s review. There was an eight-year age difference, the minor was under 16 and the adult was in a coaching position. All the responsibility in this scenario lies with the adult.
Because we are not talking and teaching about consent enough, there are people who are more concerned this was two females. Let’s review. Sexual orientation is about to whom one is attracted. Same or similar age sexual attraction between people is just that: attraction. Behavior is a whole different thing. Adults who prey on children are unhealthy, whether they are seeking sexual contact with someone who is the same or a different gender than they are.
And because we don’t know how to talk and teach about consent, we don’t do it. Even when we do, we don’t do a very good job at it. It’s uncomfortable.
We need to get over ourselves. Go right now to www.100conversations.org, click on topics and find “Consent and Laws.” Start talking — to your children, your students, your youth group, your nieces and nephews and grandchildren and the kids who hang out at your house this summer.
Ask questions. Listen. Gently correct misinformation. Help them realize that not only does “no mean no” but a “yes” should be freely given — without coercion, without guilt, without embarrassment or fear of reprisal. And it should be a peer — not a teacher, coach, supervisor, or boss — with whom you are in any kind of sexual or romantic relationship.
This isn’t only about sex. It’s also about friendship and peer pressure and alcohol and drug use. It’s about manipulation and co-dependence and decision-making and learning how to be in healthy relationship with each other. It’s about respect.
The time for these conversations is now. The place for them is here. And the person to start talking is you.
Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer, educator and coach in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of the books, “Parenting by Strengths: A Parent’s Guide for Challenging Situations” and “Homegrown Faith and Justice.” Amy facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area and online. She specializes in working with parents and in sexuality education. Amy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.