I visited a class of Hawkins Middle School students in March to find out what they thought of SHB 1397, that would add information on statutory rape to sex education classes.
The bill requires public schools that offer sexual health education “to include age-appropriate information about the legal elements of sexual offenses where a minor is a victim and the consequences upon conviction.”
(Scroll down to see a video of some of the Hawkins students’ comments about the sex education bill.)
The 13- and 14-year-olds in Julie Sullivan’s humanities class already were immersed in improving information that gets out to their peers and students at the high school. They had conducted a survey at the high school that found only 20 percent of respondents knew the legal age of consent in this state.
The class is participating in Project Citizen, a national civics competition, with the goal of reducing teen pregnancy. The students are pushing to replace the old sack of flour exercise with use of realistic baby mannequins programmed to make demands on their “parents” just like a real infant.
Given that level of activism, I wasn’t surprised to hear that three students from the class recently testified on SHB 1397 before the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. The students — Sophia Daley, Adin Welander and Morgan Young — showed poise and persuasiveness in their statements. All three are in favor of the bill.
Their testimony at the March 22 hearing can be viewed at 46:55 minutes into the taping, which included other bills.
“I strongly believe in this bill, because it will change so many people’s lives,” said Sophia Daley.
Daley knows a 14-year-old who was involved with a 17-year-old. The older teen is now branded “a sex offender for life.”
State law protects individuals under 18 years old by prohibiting sexual contact and sexual intercourse with partners who are significantly older. The designated age gap varies from five years or more for second degree sexual misconduct with a minor victim who is at least 16 but under 18, to the far more serious crime of first degree rape of a child, which applies when the victim is under 12 years old and the perpetrator is at least two years older.
“In reality, no one really wants to hire a sex offender,” Welander said. “It could have just been one mistake, but it’s kind of a really bad label, and they could’ve avoided that really easily.”
Young also focused on the long-term consequences. “What boss is going to hire a sex offender, and if they’re labeled a sex offender, their career is going to go down the toilet,” she said.
Christyn Daley, Sophia’s mother, has an 18-year-old son who is dating a 15-year-old girl. They’ve talked openly about what’s acceptable and potential consequences, but that’s probably not happening in every family, she told the commission. Daley is also a registered nurse concerned about the trend of younger students becoming sexually active.
Michael Young, Morgan’s dad, said, “As parents, we want to protect our children. We want to pretend things aren’t happening, but they are.”
Students these days are worldly but not not always well-informed, Young said. “We need to get out of the snow globe. We need to teach our children what’s going on so they can recognize and take power over their lives.”
The students later took a tour of the state Capitol and posed with Gov. Jay Inslee, as you can see from this photo sent in by Michael Young.