Recently, lawmakers across the country have been taking a hard look at whether we are doing enough to ensure people are protected from unwanted sexual advances. While much of that work focused on harassment in the workplace, we here in Delaware also began to examine whether we were providing our children with the tools they need for healthy, respectful adult relationships later in life.
The limited data available to us raised serious concerns about whether we are meeting that standard. Annual reports from the Delaware Department of Education show that the incidence of sexual offense among public school students has increased in recent years with 180 recorded in the 2017-2018 school year. In its first legally required report on campus sexual assault in Delaware, the state Department of Justice last year recorded 53 cases of rape allegations, 11 accusations of nonconsensual genital contact and 15 incidents of reported nonconsensual sexual contact across six colleges and universities.
To me, these troubling trends are a clear indication that rather than simply instructing our children on how their bodies work, we should be teaching our kids how to better navigate adult relationships and respect each other wishes. Unlike neighboring states New Jersey and Maryland, Delaware public schools have not consistently covered consent, healthy relationships or sexual assault in their health education programs, even though school-based programs that include those topics have been shown to result in fewer cases of violence and victimization.
That's why this legislative session, I introduced a bill that calls on schools to be proactive in making sure students know how to ask for, identify, and react to the concept of consent. I'm proud to say my consent education bill, Senate Bill 78, passed the House on June 30 and is now awaiting Gov. John Carney's signature.
SB 78 will require public and charter schools to add age- and developmentally-appropriate instruction to their existing health classes for grades 7-12 regarding what consent means in the context of a sexual encounter.
To establish consistency across districts and schools, Senate Bill 78 would define consent as "the unambiguous, voluntary, and freely given agreement by all participants in each physical act in the course of sexual activity, including respect for personal boundaries. The bill also would make clear that consent does not include a lack of resistance in the face of force or an extension of any previous relationship. The legislation would place that definition in the Delaware Code alongside other important school-related regulatory provisions such as bullying, child abuse, criminal youth gangs and teen dating violence.
Teaching our children to respect personal boundaries is a moral imperative because we know this much-needed policy can cut down on cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other violent crimes. When I volunteered in a rape crisis center, I saw first-hand the outcome of not talking about this issue. As a senator, I am committed to do whatever I can to take us in a different direction.
With help from House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, we managed to get every single one of the 62 legislators representing our state to vote yes on SB 78. I am extremely proud of this effort and grateful to my colleagues for their support.