20220101-LOC-Take Back the Night filer

Alexis Merrill, seen in this file photo from 2017 as a Keene State junior, marches down Winchester Street toward Main Street during the college’s “Take Back the Night” march. Youth activists from a group called End Sexual Violence On Campus New Hampshire are now working with Rep. Amanda Elizabeth Toll of Keene on proposed legislation that would require public school health curriculum to include the topic of consent.

Health education in public schools would be required to include age-appropriate instruction in the meaning of consent, respect for personal boundaries and sexual violence prevention under legislation introduced by Democratic Rep. Amanda Elizabeth Toll of Keene.

“This legislation helps keep our youngest Granite Staters safe by giving them the tools they need to protect themselves from abuse, establish and respect others’ boundaries, and build healthy relationships,” Toll, whose district encompasses the entire city, said in an email.

“Education and strategies related to consent can help to stem the tide of domestic and sexual violence.”

She said the idea for the legislation was brought to her by youth activists from the organization End Sexual Violence On Campus New Hampshire and that she also worked on the bill with the N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Reagan Riffle of Peterborough, a member of the End Sexual Violence group, said she began her advocacy for consent education while attending ConVal Regional High School. The organization gathered testimony, conducted surveys, compiled data and wrote its own consent curriculum.

“We firmly believe that by the time people are in high school, it is dangerous for them to have an inadequate understanding of consent,” said Riffle, who is now a freshman at American University in Washington, D.C.

“There are students who don’t understand consent, sexual safety, don’t practice safe sex, respectful sex. How do you navigate boundaries without teaching those skills to young people?”

Current state law requires health education include physiology, hygiene, effects of drugs and alcohol, child abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. Topics discussed vary by grade.

Every two years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conduct a Youth Risk Behavior Survey among representative samples of students in grades nine through 12. Results for 2019 for the Greater Monadnock area, the latest available, showed that 12.6 percent of the females surveyed said they had been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.

The Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit research and policy organization, found that as of this month lawmakers in 11 states plus the District of Columbia have mandated consent education.

Nationally, there has been a growing discussion of sexual violence, including the Me Too movement and advocacy of consent standards on college campuses.

Toll’s co-sponsors on House Bill 1533, which is to be considered in the legislative session beginning next month, include three Democratic lawmakers from Keene, Rep. Joe Schapiro, Rep. Lawrence Welkowitz and Sen. Jay Kahn.

If approved, it would take effect 60 days after passage.

Rick Green can be reached at RGreen@KeeneSentinel.com or 603-355-8567.