Dr. Apryl Alexander is a Scholar Activist, Associate Professor at the University of Denver, and Black Lives Matter organizer in the Denver area. In November 2018, Dr. Alexander spoke at TEDxMileHigh Reset on the juvenile justice system. Learn how preventing sexual violence is possible through consent education in schools.
Preventing Sexual Violence
In Dr. Alexander’s talk, she reveals a shocking statistic: minors commit one-third of all sexual offenses in the U.S. While some of these offenders engage in violence, Dr. Alexander explains, “There’s another group of adolescents who are stuck with a life-long label as a sex offender for engaging in behavior that doesn’t match the punishment.” These include urinating in public, streaking, or receiving a naked photo of a significant other who is also a minor.
Dr. Alexander says, “We have this notion of ‘once a sex offender always a sex offender’ in our culture. And that’s why we created public sex offender registries—to track violent behavior and prevent repeat offenses. An offender can be placed on that list for 10 years or life, depending on the situation and the state.”
Today, 38 states register children as sex offenders, despite data indicating that only four percent of adolescents who engaged in illegal sexual behavior will offend again.
Through the juvenile justice system, a sexual offender under 18 will be “ostracized and shamed by his community without the chance to show he can live an offense-free life.”
Lack of Basic Sex Education
As Dr. Alexander explains, research indicates that sex offender registration for minors does not improve the safety of our communities. Instead, it is expensive and leaves many adolescents with limited options once they have finished their treatment.
“And here’s what’s so frustrating: for several years, I worked in a treatment center in Alabama for adolescents who’d engaged in illegal sexual behavior. Step one of the treatment program was basic sex education.” – Dr. Apryl Alexander
Alabama is one of 33 states that does not require medically-accurate sex education in schools. As a result, this was the first time many of the adolescents that Dr. Alexander was working with gained basic sex knowledge only after they have already committed a crime.
Dr. Alexander explains, “You realize how ridiculous that is, right? We’re educating these kids only after they’ve offended and been convicted. By then, it’s too late!” To Dr. Alexander, one thing is clear: these crimes were preventable. Preventing sexual violence comes down to sexual consent education in schools.
Consent Education in Schools
According to Dr. Alexander, early consent education can help prevent sexual violence among youth and adults. Instead of starting to talk about consent in high school, teaching students that “no means no,” Dr. Alexander suggests beginning consent conversations in early childhood. It can even begin in the home.
“If your child doesn’t want to hug each and every family member as you leave Christmas dinner—don’t make them!” – Dr. Apryl Alexander
Psychological research shows that the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for planning, reasoning, empathy, decision-making, and future-oriented thinking, is not fully developed until the age of 25. Conversations about boundaries, Dr. Alexander argues, need to begin in childhood and continue through adolescence for young people to fully develop healthy and responsible behavior.
A world with less sexual violence begins with sex education and that means working with legislators to update sex education laws. As Dr. Alexander says, “I’ve seen first hand what sexual violence can do to people. If we had consent education in schools across America, so many of these problems would disappear.”
To stay up-to-date with Dr. Apryl Alexander’s local activism and research, check out her website, and Twitter account. Dr. Apryl Alexander’s academic activism is extensive and we encourage you to learn more about her work with Black Lives Matter 5280, and research on compassionate release, the Abuse-to-Prison pipeline, and child victim believability, among other topics. Her website keeps an updated feed of recently published articles.