Hertel pushes ‘affirmative consent’ sex education bill

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Democratic Michigan senator said Tuesday he is working with First Lady Sue Snyder’s office on a plan to require that Michigan schools teach affirmative consent in sex education courses.

Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, is sponsoring a bill that would require schools that already teach sex education to include information about the importance of asking for consent because Hertel says the onus too often falls on women to say no.

Hertel last session failed to gain much support in a GOP-controlled Legislature. But this time around he says the support of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s wife — whose office he says helped draft the bill — gives him confidence that it’s not a partisan issue.

“We need to change our culture, and by teaching kids to respect their partner and respect others’ rights, autonomy and their body, I think we can help turn the tide on this problem that we have at all of our college campuses,” Hertel said.

Sue Snyder’s office is not taking a public position on the legislation.

“Sen. Hertel shared his legislation with our office; however, the First Lady doesn’t take a position on legislation,” said Jordan Kennedy, a spokeswoman for her office. “The First Lady’s focus continues to be on supporting campus sexual assault survivors and raising awareness and prevention efforts in Michigan.”

Hertel said he won’t “reveal internal emails and discussions” but said he worked with her office on drafting the bill “every step of the way.”

The plan was introduced Tuesday and assigned to the Senate Committee on Education, which Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, chairs. It so far is backed by at least three Republican senators: Tonya Schuitmaker of Lawton, Rick Jones of Grand Ledge and Judy Emmons of Sheridan.

Debi Cain, executive director of the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention & Treatment Board also helped draft the bill, Hertel said.

“Under the current system, my daughter will be taught where not to walk, what not to wear, where not to leave her drink and all those things while my sons will never be taught not to be perpetrators,” Hertel said. “My wife and I are certainly going to teach our sons proper respect, but it needs to be done across the state.”

The plan would not affect schools that don’t teach sex education or change a waiver that parents can request for their kids to opt out of existing sex ed classes.

Sex ed programs would have to instruct students “about sexual assault and dating violence and prevention of sexual assault and dating violence,” according to the bill.

That would include “concepts relating to bystander intervention” and creating “a school environment in which sexual assault and dating violence are not acceptable” and victims are offered help.

“Instruction on affirmative consent shall include teaching pupils that in order for consent to be given to sexual activity, it must be affirmative and conscious and involve a voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” the legislation said.

The bill specifies that a “lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent and that silence does not mean consent.”

It also says consent “must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.” The bill adds that dating status and past sexual history with someone “are not indicators of consent.”