Wearing black to the State of the Union isn't enough

The black dresses symbolizing a stand against sexual harassment and assault we saw at the Golden Globes will make ...

Posted: Jan 28, 2018 8:15 AM
Updated: Jan 28, 2018 8:15 AM

The black dresses symbolizing a stand against sexual harassment and assault we saw at the Golden Globes will make another appearance at the State of the Union, putting the nation on notice that Time's Up for inappropriate behavior. We can't expect President Donald Trump to speak to this crisis -- nor does he have the credibility given his track record. But the onus is on all of us to transform the culture of sexual harassment and assault across America. We can change our culture for future generations, but this requires education, starting early -- for children and teens, at school and at home.

Harvey Weinstein said, in response to allegations of sexual harassment and rape, that he came of age at a time when "all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then." While this was a pathetic attempt to deflect responsibility, it's clear that some of Weinstein's perspective is still implicitly or explicitly infused into our culture today.

If young boys learn that taunting and teasing is a good way to show interest in girls, for example, will that behavior be left behind on the playground or will it subconsciously become the foundation for adult attitudes about women?

Sex education should be an educational priority, along with other critical subjects such as math and history. When done right, it's not just a semester during PE freshman year; it's an ongoing process throughout a student's entire educational career, covering communication and decision-making skills, sexual orientation and gender identity as well as the basics of reproduction and contraception.

It may feel difficult to talk to very young children about sex and relationships, but this is imperative. And we can start by equipping them with knowledge about their bodies, the characteristics of healthy relationships -- romantic and platonic -- and what to do when lines are crossed. This knowledge and approach can have an incredible impact if practiced at a national scale. Imagine if every school across the country taught inclusive, comprehensive sex education, and if every family helped children to understand their bodies and their rights, and the breadth of different kinds of gender expressions, family structures and relationships. We would be raising a generation that could change our world for the better.

This dream is possible, but right now a lot of barriers stand in the way. We have a patchwork of state and local sex education policies and programs that vary widely across the country -- some leaning on abstinence-only instruction, reinforcing Weinstein-esque (or worse) gender norms, and lies about the efficacy of birth control. Too many young people are forced to resort to internet searches and rely on rumors for supposed information about sex and sexuality. What they end up finding can be dangerous and misleading.

In this moment of reckoning about sexual assault and harassment, young people crave accurate information and want it on their own terms. An animated video created by a program I work with, AMAZE -- titled "What is Sexual Assault?" -- had its views spike above 100,000 after #MeToo took hold in the media. There are some terrific resources out there to help parents, teachers and teens fill in the gaps, but they need additional resources to cut through a saturated media landscape.

Sex education that covers not just the birds and the bees but also teaches skills for establishing boundaries, consent and healthy relationships is key to dismantling a culture that allows sexual harassment and assault to persist throughout every industry, street and school in America. This isn't a pipe dream; it's becoming the reality in places like California, where the recently enacted Healthy Youth Act requires comprehensive sex education in schools across the state, complete with factual and inclusive information about sex, consent, and healthy relationships.

Unfortunately, this is not the sex education most of our children receive. Far too many students face abstinence-only curricula that shame anything other than strict heterosexuality and gender conformity.

Studies show that abstinence-only programs don't delay sexual activity, but do give young people false and dangerous perceptions about sexual health and relationships. Just last year, an abstinence-only program was banned from a New York district after it compared a girl's virginity to chewing gum and asked boys if they would want used gum.

This common tactic used in abstinence-only programs spreads fear and stigma and fuels a harassment culture by promoting gender relations that devalue women and police their sexual activity. Now they're resurging under the Trump administration, which hired a crusader for rebranding abstinence-only with a euphemism: "sexual risk avoidance." But make no mistake; these are the same old ineffective programs masquerading under a benign name.

While it may seem impossible to gain support at the federal level for high-quality sex education, we can make big changes closer to home. More states can follow the lead of California and implement policies that require comprehensive, inclusive sex education. Others can find courage in New York's example and challenge dangerous, misleading programs masquerading as sex ed. We can create a demand too big to be denied.

Our country is at a crossroads, and our children are watching closely. During Tuesday night's address, they'll see that some of our national leaders are taking the #MeToo conversation seriously. This conversation needs to happen at home, too. Now is the moment to make an impact on how young people approach interpersonal relationships for the rest of their lives. Let's not let them down.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 449492

Reported Deaths: 6047
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin933031483
Ramsey40134741
Dakota33159344
Anoka31061365
Washington20220230
Stearns17922188
St. Louis13730242
Scott1199496
Wright11656104
Olmsted1054775
Sherburne822065
Carver696436
Clay653981
Rice610769
Kandiyohi554871
Blue Earth543233
Crow Wing484877
Otter Tail457967
Chisago453336
Benton421086
Winona390046
Douglas375766
Nobles371746
Mower367829
Goodhue349259
Polk328958
McLeod325745
Morrison312145
Beltrami311048
Lyon302538
Becker286239
Itasca285243
Isanti282941
Carlton280943
Steele27489
Pine267013
Freeborn247923
Todd232230
Nicollet225436
Brown215534
Mille Lacs214545
Le Sueur210715
Cass207723
Meeker200033
Waseca190116
Wabasha17243
Martin170826
Roseau165717
Hubbard149538
Redwood139827
Renville137540
Houston137213
Dodge13544
Chippewa131632
Cottonwood127718
Fillmore12435
Wadena120117
Rock110312
Sibley10857
Aitkin108333
Faribault106716
Watonwan10678
Pennington99715
Kanabec98018
Pipestone94723
Yellow Medicine93715
Murray8935
Jackson86010
Swift83518
Pope7415
Marshall70315
Stevens7018
Clearwater68514
Lac qui Parle65716
Lake64915
Wilkin6269
Koochiching59710
Lincoln4871
Big Stone4603
Unassigned43668
Grant4298
Norman4248
Mahnomen4107
Kittson37220
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Lake of the Woods1951
Cook1150

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 307088

Reported Deaths: 4340
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk46016457
Linn17864278
Scott15566166
Black Hawk13875238
Woodbury13040177
Johnson1216051
Dubuque11434153
Pottawattamie9047113
Dallas896572
Story871235
Webster470172
Cerro Gordo467871
Sioux456157
Clinton451863
Warren449038
Marshall428662
Buena Vista393829
Muscatine392278
Des Moines383641
Plymouth351468
Wapello346598
Jasper324059
Lee318131
Marion305752
Jones272649
Henry264831
Carroll255934
Bremer246848
Crawford232324
Washington220332
Boone219517
Benton210150
Mahaska195037
Jackson193031
Tama188758
Dickinson186227
Kossuth174844
Delaware174536
Clay169820
Wright165224
Fayette163623
Hamilton160730
Buchanan160423
Winneshiek156919
Harrison156762
Hardin155529
Cedar154219
Clayton151548
Butler149224
Page144915
Floyd139836
Cherokee139227
Mills136916
Lyon135732
Poweshiek133924
Hancock130724
Allamakee129628
Iowa126022
Calhoun12299
Grundy121626
Jefferson121325
Madison12129
Winnebago119729
Mitchell116235
Louisa115430
Cass113942
Chickasaw112212
Sac111115
Emmet110831
Appanoose110740
Union109222
Humboldt105819
Guthrie103424
Shelby103427
Franklin102718
Unassigned9410
Palo Alto90910
Montgomery86423
Keokuk85626
Howard84419
Monroe81319
Clarke7987
Pocahontas77711
Ida74730
Davis69421
Greene6947
Adair69020
Lucas6589
Monona64616
Osceola6419
Worth6133
Taylor5949
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Van Buren49713
Decatur4934
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