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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Nicole Poore’s consent education bill passes Delaware Senate

June 12, 2019

DOVER – Legislation designed to provide students with a formal education on the topic on consent cleared the Delaware Senate on Wednesday by a unanimous vote.

Introduced by Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore in April, Senate Bill 78 would require school districts and charter schools to add age- and developmentally-appropriate instruction about the meaning of consent and how to respect each other’s personal boundaries to the existing health curriculum.

“The ability to navigate adult relationships is a life skill and one we desperately need to teach our young people,” said Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore, D-New Castle. “It’s not enough for us to simply teach them how their bodies work. They also need to be taught how to respect each other’s wishes and that includes learning how to ask for and identify consent.”

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 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.

Yet, unlike neighboring states New Jersey and Maryland, Delaware does not require its public schools to cover consent, healthy relationships or sexual assault in their sexuality education programs, even though school-based programs that include those topics have been shown to result in fewer cases of violence and victimization.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of fostering these difficult conversations. We, frankly, should be shining a light on them,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, prime House sponsor of SB 78. “Encouraging this educational programming in schools breaks down the barriers and stigma associated with consent, and empowers youth with the knowledge of respectful, healthy and appropriate relationships. Incorporating these lessons beginning in 7th grade and into high school sets a strong foundation for the future.”

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.

“Senate Bill 78 is a short bill with a big idea: It is on all of us – as parents, as leaders, and as neighbors – to do a better job of teaching people not to victimize others,” Attorney General Kathy Jennings said. “That begins with us talking to our kids about consent, and in Delaware we have an opportunity to make our schools partners in that conversation and in that mission. This is smart, safe, and sensible policy and I’m grateful to Sen. Poore and Rep. Longhurst for their leadership.”

Senate Bill 78 now heads to the House for final consideration.