As an educator, I believe learning about consent is as essential to one’s education as Math, Science, or English. By teaching consent, we can prevent the violence and abuse we see in our office at Domestic and Sexual Violence Services every day.

The CDC estimates that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes. Working with sweet, smart, happy middle schoolers, I am devastated by the idea of violence harming our youth. That’s why we at Power Up, Speak Out! are committed to teaching consent in classrooms statewide.

Sexual violence has grabbed our attention as a nation. We’ve watched colleges nationwide begin to grapple with the huge impact sexual violence has on students’ wellbeing. But we need to be proactive, not reactive. As Dr. Paul Abramsom from UCLA explains, “With dating and sexual activity increasingly starting in junior high or high school, ameliorative measures at the college level might come years too late. And by then, attempts to reprogram views on sex and relationship dynamics could prove difficult.”

At Power Up, Speak Out! we teach that consent is permission to cross a boundary and applies to all actions. Want to borrow your friend’s cell phone? You need consent. Want to hug your teacher? You need consent.

We ask for consent all the time, whether through verbal or nonverbal actions. When I throw a ball to my friend and I look to see that she is making eye contact and putting her hands out to catch enthusiastically, I am asking for, and being granted, nonverbal consent.

We believe that consent shouldn’t be a scary subject. If we teach middle schoolers how to ask for consent when sharing a photo on Facebook or telling a story about someone else, we are encouraging them to set their own boundaries and to respect the boundaries of others. We don’t need to start the conversation by talking about sexual assault or other unhealthy behaviors to help youth build the skills they need to have healthy relationships.

I want to live in a world where all women, children and men are safe to be themselves without fear of violence. I am so grateful to the awesome teachers who use Power Up, Speak Out! toteach consent, boundaries, and other healthy relationship skills to middle schoolers statewide. Together, we can change the statistics and create a healthier, happier world.

By BaLeigh M. Harper