As two prosecutors with decades of experience helping survivors of domestic and sexual violence in King County, we spend all day, every day responding to cases involving abuse. Over the last year, almost 5,000 survivors of sexual violence and their families sought help from the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. In 2019, the King County Prosecutor filed more than 2,000 sexual and domestic violence cases, from homicides to rapes to aggravated assaults. We assisted on thousands more protection orders, worked to reduce firearm violence and helped children who were often the targets of abuse.
We want fewer victims to experience violence. This is why we support Senate Bill 5395 and its companion, House Bill 2184, which will provide comprehensive sexual health education for all Washington students. This proposal would help stop sexual and domestic violence by requiring public schools to include age-appropriate curriculum that develops healthy relationship behavior in students.
Legislation can be a powerful tool to reduce violence. Last year, laws redefined rape and removed the statute of limitations on many sex crimes, reducing the burden on victims and giving many of them the time needed to come forward and report crimes. Our community also passed domestic violence laws to keep victims safe and reduce firearm violence.
These are steps in the right direction. For true culture change to happen around sexual and domestic violence, proactive education and prevention also is needed. Too often, young people don’t know how to ask for and receive consent, or how to engage in healthy relationships. Access to this information is a critical part of the solution to end cycles of abuse, especially when the cycles are generational. It is particularly critical that young people receive reliable, accurate information in a digital age where harmful explicit materials are one click away.
Government already makes choices about what schools teach. Washington requires financial literacy because learning about “spending and saving” are important life skills. We agree: Students should know how to balance their checkbooks. Students should also know how to treat their partner with dignity and respect.
Any conversation about sex and relationships must begin with the basic concept of respect. This is the modern, evidence-based approach to sex education. Washington should follow the lead of dozens of other states including Missouri, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Oregon and California and promote education on healthy relationships, dating violence, consent and sexual assault.
For too long, Washington has had no law and no plan to support prevention. We are at an important moment: #MeToo; mass shootings by domestic batterers; sexual assault on college campuses; and domestic violence as the leading cause of violent crime. We cannot prosecute, shelter, or rehabilitate our way out of sexual and domestic violence. The classroom is a far better option for lasting, positive impact.
Positive change is already happening and needs more support. Coaches at schools deliver lessons on prevention through Team Up Washington. King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC) prevention specialists now teach middle and high school students as part of health educator teams in Renton schools. Many school districts in King County rely on the evidence-based FLASH curriculum to impart these life skills. We see the positive impact these programs have on young people and on school culture. Toxic environments fade when replaced with more care, less violence and hope for the future. There is no shortage of proven, evidence-based programs to help prevent abuse in schools, on teams and in student relationships.
Let’s grow beyond a reactive strategy to stop sexual and domestic violence. It is time we confront, head on, the culture in our community that leads to violence. We stand with all of our community partners, including Harborview Abuse and Trauma Center, KCSARC and many domestic-violence agencies when we say we can and must do better for our children and reduce the number of future victims by making comprehensive sexual health education a priority for our schools.