Affirmative consent bill advances

By Miyawni Curtis

A bill aimed at preventing sexual assault and misconduct is moving toward approval by the New Mexico state Legislature.

The proposal (HB 43) would require that public high school health classes “include a standard of affirmative consent.” It passed the state House Feb. 6 on a vote of 45–12.

Affirmative consent means partners must be capable of consent and must stop physical contact if a participant requests it, according to an analysis of the bill. People under the influence of alcohol or drugs are not considered capable of consent.

The bill would also require schools to adopt policies and procedures related to the prevention of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, harassment and stalking.

“Ensuring our schools proactively provide age-appropriate information about affirmative consent will help children of all ages learn how to recognize and stop dangerous behavior,” lead sponsor Rep. Liz Thomson (D-Albuquerque) said in a press release. “This bill helps to protect our kids by preventing assault and non-consensual activity before they ever occur.” 

Statistics show that 36.3% of women nationally and 37.5% of women in New Mexico have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

This is the third time Thomson has introduced the proposal, which is similar to those already adopted by states such as California and New York. 

“Teaching affirmative consent empowers students to communicate, problem solve, and act,” the Southwest Women’s Law Center posted on Facebook Jan. 31.

“I think that having a yes-means-yes, affirmative consent education across the board will make sure that all youth in New Mexico are adequately able to understand the concept of consent,” said Abrianna Morales, founder of the Sexual Assault Youth Support Network (SAYSN).

If the bill becomes law, graduation credits will be changed for high school and college students and students entering ninth grade will take an age-appropriate health course that includes consent. 

The University of New Mexico already has a policy of affirmative consent in place, said Aine McCarthy, director of the Women’s Resource Center

“Many of us weren’t taught this when we needed this information,” McCarthy said. “We live in a really non-consensual culture and it perpetuates so many of the harms we see.”

In 2014, California became the first state to require universities receiving state funds to use affirmative consent standards. Their policy says that before any sexual activity there has to be continuous consent. 

Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, who voted against the proposal, suggested during the floor hearing that some smaller schools might not be able to comply.

“Do you see that there might be a problem with …the availability of resources ….especially in some of our more rural school districts?” Ezzel asked the sponsor. Rep.

Thompson replied that traveling experts are available to serve districts that need help. 

The bill cleared its first Senate committee Feb. 15 and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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