How one teenager turned the worst night of her life into ‘Lauren’s Law’ – a state bill that could change the way high schoolers are taught about sex
by Glyn Peterson
Lauren Atkins has had to repeat the story of the worst night of her life so many times that she can now tell it in three sentences.
So, when an Oklahoma legislator asked Lauren to share it at a recent committee hearing, she was nervous but prepared.
Sentence number one: she went to a party last spring. Number two: she was incapacitated and a boy at the party told her friends he would take care of her. Three: after she finished throwing up, she recounts, he helped her onto a bed and raped her. “The word rape is hard for some people to hear,” Atkins says, “but I feel like me saying it is what actually catches their ear.”
If passed, Oklahoma House Bill 2734, nicknamed “Lauren’s Law” after Atkins, would provide high school teachers with the training and resources required to have nuanced, evidence-based conversations with their students about consent.
Teachers in participating schools would learn how to arm students with the language to communicate boundaries, the tools to build safe and healthy relationships, and the awareness to recognize physical and emotional coercion, violence or abuse.
They would also help students understand the law, which in Oklahoma, defines consent as an “affirmative, unambiguous and voluntary agreement to engage in a specific sexual activity.” Students would learn that by law, consent can be revoked at any time and that it cannot be given by an individual who is incapacitated.
…The bill did not face organized opposition in the House, but a handful of vocal conservatives did challenge it. Resistance is not surprising in a state where sex-ed courses emphasize abstinence and are only required to teach HIV/AIDS prevention.
More than anything, the representatives’ questions proved that these elected officials would benefit from the very curriculums they were trying to keep out of schools.
The first representative to voice his concern asked about the bill’s intent to promote “healthy relationships”: “Is that like a snowflake thing?” he said. Another representative showed a lack of awareness of his own state’s law when he inquired about the definition of consent.
Proponents of the bill argued that providing students with resources that will help them stay safe and healthy isn’t a partisan issue; it’s common sense. The bill was passed in the House, 54-34, and will be voted on in the Senate this week.
AJ Griffin, a former teacher and the Republican state senator who agreed to sponsor the bill, recognizes that both Atkins’ story and the momentum of the #MeToo movement have been integral to the success the bill has seen so far. A combination of the two factors, says Griffin, “makes it more difficult for individuals who would like to ignore these issues to pretend that they don’t exist in our community.”
…Providing educators with the resources to break this silence has been proven to have a meaningful and lasting impact on students’ lives. One study recently cited by the CDC found that a school-based program addressing intimate partner violence – which taught middle and high school students how to recognize abuse, empathize with others, understand boundaries, and prevent sexual assault – reduced victimization and perpetration by up to 92 percent.