Oakwood posters on a house 
A home near Oakwood High School displays banners for Oakwood swimming, water polo and band. Many houses in Oakwood, Ohio have similar banners.

‘Too little,

too late’

Most students don’t learn about sexual assault until college. By then, it’s too late.

January 18, 2017 11:45 AM
A home near Oakwood High School displays banners for Oakwood swimming, water polo and band. Many houses in Oakwood, Ohio have similar banners.

When Brock Turner became a Stanford student in 2014, he was required to take an online course about the dangers of alcohol and “the importance of establishing affirmative consent before sex.” His first week on campus the message was reinforced again and again in a speech from the provost, in a video featuring student-athletes, in a theatrical performance and in a panel discussion offered as part of new-student orientation.

Four months later, he went to a fraternity party, got drunk, took a woman behind a dumpster, and was later convicted of sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious. He was sentenced to three months in prison for what his father called “20 minutes of action.”

As the woman he assaulted made clear in a statement – viewed by more than 2.5 million people within a day of its publication – Stanford’s efforts to educate students about sexual violence were lost on Turner. His case painfully proves a point educators and activists have been making with increasing urgency: Teaching teenagers about sexual assault in college is “too little too late.”

Turner’s hometown schools hope to change that, as do educators in Sacramento, California and Fairfax, Virginia, where they are teaching consent and healthy sexual behavior to younger students – with very little information about what will work.

Growing up ‘under the Dome’

Turner grew up in Oakwood, Ohio, an idyllic small town where the crime rate is low, and a small public safety force serves as police, firefighters and paramedics.

City council building sign 
Oakwood’s city council building also houses the public safety department, which handles all law enforcement, fire protection and emergency medical services. It was created in 1927 and is the second oldest consolidated department in the country.

Large trees hang protectively over the roads in front of homes with well-manicured lawns, tidy front porches, and banners showing pride for the Oakwood High School athletes, choir and band members who live inside. Teenagers hang out at a Starbucks on Far Hills Avenue, the main road through Oakwood that separates the East and West side, or, “the rich and the very rich,” as nearby resident Rachel Galen put it.

People refer to Oakwood as living “under the Dome.”

“It’s kind of the Beverly Hills of Dayton,” said Aaron Farrier, who has lived in neighboring Kettering for seven years. “You can actually see the border between Oakwood and Kettering, because Oakwood really pays attention to aesthetics, like in the winter all the snow will be shoveled off the sidewalks. It’s pristine. It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting.”

The Turners lived in Oakwood so they could send their children to the top-rated schools there – a fairly frequent theme of parents in Oakwood – but put up a “for sale” sign in their yard just days after Brock graduated, according to Theresa Gasper, who went to high school with Brock Turner’s mother Carleen, and says the two have remained friends over the years. The Turners now live in Bellbrook, about 10 miles away.

We don’t know what Brock Turner was taught about sexual violence before the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 2015. He and his family did not respond to a request for comment.

But learning about sexual consent in college orientation is “too little, too late,” said Nicole Cushman, executive director of Answer, a national organization that provides guidance on sexuality education. “Their attitudes about relationships and communication have already begun to gel by 18,” said Cushman, who noted that many parents neglect to talk to their children about the uncomfortable topic.

“An unfortunate trend we see with this is if parents do talk to their children about it, they’re more likely to talk to their daughters than their sons, and it reinforces the gender double standard,” Cushman said.

Women are told to stay safe, but men are not necessarily told to make sure they obtain consent and respect a partner's boundaries.
— Nicole Cushman

What Oakwood teaches about sexual assault

There is no federal requirement that schools teach about sexual violence. Mandates on sexual consent education vary widely state by state and even district by district.

The state of Ohio adopted “Tina’s Law” in late 2009, just before Brock Turner entered high school there. The law – named for an 18-year-old girl who was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend – requires all public schools to teach students between grades seven and 12 about “harassment, intimidation, or bullying” and “violence within a dating relationship.” The law does not specifically mention teachings on sexual assault and consent, but Oakwood City School District officials say they incorporate those subjects into their curriculum.

Dr. Kimbe Lange, the director of curriculum for the Oakwood City School District, said high school students typically spend three weeks on Tina’s Law during health class, which is required for one semester. Most students take the class in ninth grade; every parent has the option of opting their children out of the course, but Lange said parents rarely do. Officials did not say whether Brock Turner was opted out.

Though Lange said sexual assault and consent were covered during those three weeks, she was unable to specify how much time was spent talking about those particular topics or what, exactly, students were taught. Tina’s Law requires school officials to provide instruction materials to parents who request them, but when McClatchy requested them, Traci Hale, communications director for the district, said officials “don’t keep lesson plans on file.”

Oakwood High School sign 
Oakwood High School building 
Oakwood High School had a total of 673 students in 2016, according to U.S. News & World Report rankings. It is 49 percent male and 51 percent female, with 10 percent minority enrollment.

School officials emphasized that they taught more than just sexual assault education, and they felt their repeated teachings about respect, bullying and drugs and alcohol in earlier grades would add to students’ understanding about sexual assault.

“We start talking about how to say no, however, when they’re in kindergarten. And consent is part of that. So when we talk specifically about consent, that’s happening all the time, how to make good choices and protect yourself, and where to go for help,” said Lange. “So all of those things are happening every year. And it’s not just one lesson, one day. It’s woven throughout everything that they do. We want them to be respectful, mature adults.”

Cushman said there’s a danger in teaching young women too much about how to say “no” and teaching young men too little about how to listen for “yes.”

“It’s a common problem in schools to not teach about understanding consent. And one potential outcome of that, if we’re sticking to the common genders, is women could internalize this need to keep themselves from being assaulted or raped, so they may not feel they can report it if it happens because it’s their fault,” Cushman said.

“And men who commit sexual assault may feel they aren’t responsible for it, because the woman didn’t stop them. It’s doing everyone a disservice. And those are just the extreme examples, but this can also impact children’s future happiness in relationships based on respect and communication.”

Additionally, Cushman said that while it seemed Oakwood’s education standards did a great job at reinforcing lessons about being respectful and having tools to resist peer pressure, sexual assault specifically should be brought up before high school.

“You can’t assume that kids know how to apply those skills to sexual situations,” Cushman said. “Children are concrete thinkers and their brains haven’t yet developed the kind of abstract thinking needed to do that. It needs to be made explicit.”

Specific lessons about sexual consent are also necessary because studies have shown interpretations of sexual consent vary widely. For example, 60 percent of men say they get consent through a woman’s body language, while only 10 percent of women say they give consent through body language, according to a study by researchers at the University of Arkansas. Half of women said they give consent through verbal cues, while only 9 percent of men said they attained consent the same way.

Noah Thompson, a senior at Oakwood high, said he couldn’t remember most specific lessons but did recall talks about people not being able to consent while intoxicated.

“I’m glad they introduced the topic to us, but I don’t like that they never went back to it,” Thompson said.

I mean, they're constantly repeating math and science lessons to us. You should always be learning about health and sexual assault, too.
— Noah Thompson

Tessa Shade, a 19-year-old recent Oakwood graduate who goes to the University of Dayton, said the school did talk about the “yes means yes” definition of consent, and she felt the lesson was thorough. Shade said that after she graduates she wants to come back to Oakwood to be a teacher.

“I think they covered everything we need to talk about, what to do, how it happens, the statistics, how to prevent it and what to do if it happens,” Shade said. “They said things like, staying in groups, they talk about how it happens more during drinking and when alcohol is involved.”

In Brock Turner’s statement to the probation officer before his sentencing for sexually assaulting the 23-year-old woman known only as Emily Doe, he seemed to blame alcohol for his behavior.

“If I really wanted to get to know her, I should have asked for her number, rather than asking her to go back to my room. Being drunk I just couldn’t make the best decisions and neither could she,” Turner said, according to court documents. “I stupidly thought it was okay for me to do what everyone around [me] was doing, which was drinking. I was wrong.”

Doe addressed those words specifically in her statement during his sentencing hearing.

“Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away,” she said. “That’s the difference.”

“Sipping fireball is not your crime,” she continued. “Peeling off and discarding my underwear like a candy wrapper to insert your finger into my body, is where you went wrong.”

When Turner was awaiting sentencing, five Oakwood teachers and school employees wrote character references for him. They mention his great swimming skills and good grades, and one talks about Turner’s “famous” guacamole recipe. None mention the sexual assault or empathy for the victim.

Oakwood schools superintendent Dr. Kyle Ramey said this is the year the health standards are due for an audit, which involves bringing in experts to comment on the education standards and suggest improvements, which may then be added to the educational standards. Ramey said teachings about sexual assault have been part of audit review discussions, but it’s unknown at this time if any changes will be made.

Oakwood officials did not respond to a question about whether the Turner case would be used as part of their curriculum in the future.

Experts on sexual violence education say Oakwood’s approach is typical of how schools address sexual assault – and that’s the problem.

How other schools approach sexual assault education

Education organizations like Answer and Advocates for Youth helped develop the National Sexuality Education Standards, which were published in 2012. The document details a core curriculum for students from K-12, including how and when to address sexual violence in the classroom in an age-appropriate manner, with an emphasis on how to respect others woven throughout each lesson.

The first time students should be exposed to some sort of education about unwanted touching is by the end of the second grade, according to the standards. Those lessons are aimed at preventing young children from being victims of child sexual abuse, and studies have shown those teachings make children more likely to disclose abuse when it occurs. Convicted child sex offenders have told researchers that it’s easier to take advantage of children who have inadequate information about their bodies.

By the end of eighth grade, students should be able to understand the benefits of delaying intercourse, communicate effectively about their personal boundaries, know how to show respect for others’ boundaries, and describe the impact of power differentials in relationships, such as gender roles.

By the end of 12th grade, students should be able to analyze influences that impact people’s decisions regarding sexual activity, examine laws related to minors and their ability to consent to sex, apply a decision making model to various sexual health decisions, demonstrate ways to show respect for the personal boundaries of others, practice refusal and negotiation skills to help them avoid unwanted sexual activity, describe and explain consent and list characteristics of healthy and unhealthy sexual and romantic relationships.

Jen Stamper, a mother who lives near Oakwood in Kettering, said she doesn’t know if she would want her children to be taught about sexual assault as soon as middle school. She has two daughters, ages 15 and 4, and a 6-year-old son.

“I would want them (the school) to ask me first,” Stamper said. “I would want to specifically know what kind of things they would be saying about it.”

Parental concerns are one of the main barriers, said Ebony Tucker, an advocacy director at the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

“I think there’s a lot of concern over how parents are going to feel about what children are exposed to at a young age,” Tucker said. “Rape crisis centers have done really well at providing sexual assault education, but they have a hard time even getting into school systems sometimes, and that’s mainly because if they’re coming, the school has to tell parents that someone from a rape crisis center is coming, and there’s a freak out.”

In Fairfax County, Virginia, the school district decided to try to tackle sexual assault teachings in its own way, absent any state laws or mandates.

Last year, they introduced lessons specific to sexual assault in 10th grade and continue them in 11th and 12th grades.

“A lot of information out there is given to students at the college level, but the CDC says a lot of victimization happens at the high school level,” said Liz Payne, K-12 Coordinator for Health, Family Life and Physical Education at Fairfax County Public Schools.

We want them to have this information before they need it.
— Liz Payne

About 46 percent of girls between seventh and 12th grade reported unwelcome sexual jokes, comments or gestures, and 13 percent reported being touched in an unwelcome sexual way, according to a 2011 study by the American Association of University Women. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that about one in five female high school students experience either physical or sexual abuse from a dating partner.

In 10th grade, students are asked to define what sexual assault, rape and sexual consent mean to them. The teacher then specifically defines consent, according to the lesson plan, as someone clearly agreeing or saying yes to sexual activity.

Students are provided definitions of sexual assault and rape as well, including specific types of rape such as acquaintance/date rape, statutory rape and trusted adult rape. They also learn the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships, the signs of human trafficking, other forms of dating violence and abuse and where to go for help.

In 11th grade, teachers further define sexual assault and consent to students, including a full explanation of coercion and how it cannot be part of consent. It once again calls on students to not blame the victim, regardless of what they are doing or wearing at the time. They also use a video to detail how survivors might feel after an assault and what people can do as bystanders, with the lesson including the specific example of the two bikers who tackled Brock Turner during his sexual assault of Emily Doe.

In 12th grade, students learn about sexual assault from a legal perspective. Consent and sexual assault are defined again, and the teacher cites statistics on how rape and sexual assault cases are highly underreported to law enforcement.

But even Fairfax doesn’t teach about sexual assault prior to high school, though Cushman said that’s important for schools to do.

In 2015, California became one of the first states to mandate that public schools teach students in grades seven through 12 about sexual assault and consent. The Sacramento City Unified School District, which has 46,000 students and 75 K-12 schools, is currently working on implementation of that law.

Aaron Pecho, science coordinator of the district, said they plan to train teachers in April and start teaching the lesson plans to students in certain schools later in the spring. Officials plan to teach it district-wide starting next academic year.

Those sexuality education lesson plans are not officially approved yet, Pecho said, but the plan is to teach them for two weeks each in the seventh and 10th grades. And the lessons are based on the National Sexuality Education Standards developed by Advocates for Youth and Answer.

In seventh grade, students watch a video called, “RAPE: Get the Facts,” which tells students that rape is a “men’s issue,” and men need to play a role in combating it. Teachers then lead a discussion about how prevalent sexual abuse and assault is in the U.S., even at young ages, that the perpetrator is usually someone known by the victim and that it can happen to people of any gender, race, ethnicity or background. The lesson plan defines consent as “yes means yes,” and says pressure and coercion cannot be used to obtain true consent.

In high school, teachers will redefine sexual abuse to students, saying it includes rape, forcing another person to do anything sexual that they don’t want to do, making another person watch porn, sharing sexual photos of another person without their consent and refusing to practice safer sex. Students repeat lessons about sexual harassment and consent.

Pecho added that throughout students’ time in grades K-12, schools also give repeated lessons on empathy, good decision-making and relationships, among other topics. Those existed before the California law and are also emphasized in the National Sexuality Education Standards.

District officials have not heard from parents yet as they’re still focusing on implementation and input from school leaders, Pecho said, but he hasn’t heard of other school districts in California getting backlash.

Though Pecho said district officials believe these lessons on sexual violence are important, he doesn’t think the school district would have taken the step to add them to the curriculum without state action.

“Without that state mandate, it would’ve been hard for us to make sure it was adequately taught in classrooms. Just because, historically, teachers haven’t taught sexual violence or around the issues of sexual violence,” Pecho said. “With that lack of capacity, secondary school being what it is, in that you have nine months to teach a year-long life science or biology curriculum.”

It's really challenging to ask teachers to dedicate any additional time to something they haven't taught before, or that they may be uncomfortable teaching, or that they may not even feel is necessary to address with their students.
— Aaron Pecho

“We know now that we can’t wait on this, we have to actually address it in our classrooms,” Pecho continued. “The state requires it.”

‘Am I shirking my responsibilities as a parent?’

Carleen Turner’s friend Theresa Gasper said she was never taught about sexual assault when she was young, though she did experience plenty of harassment in her life. She said guidance, and knowing who could she turn to for help, would have been helpful.

“I sure wasn’t getting it from my family, or my teachers, or any trusted advisors along the way,” Gasper said.

Brian Duckro, Gasper’s 32-year-old son who grew up near Oakwood and now lives in Houston, Texas, said he doesn’t remember anyone teaching him about sexual assault either. The first time he remembers hearing anything about sexual violence was when his peers in college told him to beware of people putting roofies, the date rape drug, in his drinks. He recalls hearing the “no means no,” definition of consent at some point in his life, which is actually the definition most experts try to dissuade people from using because it doesn’t cover instances when the victim is silent or unconscious.

“I’ve learned more about it in the past five to 10 years, because date rape has become a kind of PSA (public service announcement) statement out there on commercials and everything else,” Duckro said. “I was naive growing up, coming from a stricter household, and then going to college and living in the dorms. Roofies and stuff like that was learned through the passing of conversation.”

Gasper admits she doesn’t remember talking to her children about the issue much, besides telling her daughter how to protect herself and telling her son to treat women with respect.

“I go back and forth between what is the obligation of the family and what’s the obligation of the extended circle, whether that’s a school, or a church or the community,” Gasper said.

And by hoping they have these discussions in school, am I shirking my responsibilities as a parent? But it's kind of one of those things, you don't know what you don't know.
— Theresa Gasper

Carleen and Dan Turner, Brock’s parents, did not mention talking to their son about sexual assault in their character letters to Judge Aaron Persky. They both mention how motivated he was both academically and athletically, and begged Persky to only sentence Turner to probation without jail time for his crime.

Brock and Carleen Turner walking to the Santa Clara Superior Courthouse 
Brock Turner makes his way into the Santa Clara Superior Courthouse in Palo Alto, Calif., with his mother Carleen Turner. Carleen Turner wrote a nearly four-page letter in support of her son to Judge Aaron Persky. (Dan Honda, Bay Area News Group via AP)

“That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life,” Dan Turner wrote.

Dan Turner does mention other areas of education.

“Brock can do so many positive things as a contributor to society and is totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity,” he wrote. “By having people like Brock educate others on college campuses is how society can begin to break the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate results.”

Oakwood engineering teacher Tony Rainsberger said in emails obtained by the Dayton Daily News that he wished the school had talked to students more about sexual violence.

“I personally wish we had more conversations about this with our older students (seniors) before they went off to college. I hope it would empower young women and help young men understand the idea of freely given consent,” Rainsberger wrote to another teacher. “In hindsight I really wish we would have had this conversation with Brock Turner.”

It is unclear what will change in the Oakwood curriculum. Meanwhile, in Fairfax County, officials recommend teachers have high school seniors read Emily Doe’s statement about Turner’s assault in full. Teachers then ask students if and how the statement changed their perceptions about sexual assault and survivors.

“It needs to be covered, it needs to be discussed,” Gasper said.

Instead of teaching our daughters not to be raped, we need to teach our sons not to rape.
— Theresa Gasper

“I remember all of the things we tell daughters: Don’t take a drink from someone you don’t know, don’t walk by yourself, always have friends with you and on and on. And we tell boys: Wear a condom, and that’s pretty much it."

Sources: Nicole Cushman, executive director of Answer; Ebony Tucker, advocacy director at National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; Kyle Ramey, superintendent of Oakwood City School District; Kimbe Lange, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Oakwood City School District; Traci Hale, director of communications at Oakwood City School District; Liz Payne, K-12 coordinator for Health, Family Life and Physical Education at Fairfax County Public Schools; Aaron Pecho, science coordinator at Sacramento City Unified School District; Noah Thompson, student at Oakwood High School; Theresa Gasper, went to high school with Carleen Turner; Brian Duckro, son of Theresa Gasper; Aaron Farrier, Kettering resident; Rachel Galen, Kettering resident; Jen Stamper, Kettering resident; Tessa Shade, Oakwood graudate; "Here is the Powerful Letter the Stanford Victim Read Aloud to her Attacker," BuzzFeed News; Santa Clara Court documents; U.S. Department of Justice; American Association of University Women; Stanford News; Ohio Bar; University of Arkansas; National Sexuality Education Standards; Dayton Daily News

Reporting and photos: Kate Irby
Editing: Julie Moos