The link between abstinence only education and rape culture should be clear to anyone with half a brain: if you teach kids that premarital sex takes away their value as human beings, and that only “bad girls” have sex, rape victims are much more likely to blame themselves for their rapes. And if they have no idea what consensual sex is, and sex is surrounded by shame, it will be harder for them to recognize and talk about abuse when it happens.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from Elizabeth Smart, a Utah girl who was kidnapped at age 14, forced into a polygamous “marriage,” and raped repeatedly until she was rescued nine months later. Since then, she has done a lot of advocacy work for victims of rape and sex trafficking via the Elizabeth Smart Foundation. Speaking in a forum about human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University over the weekend, she explained how abstinence only education made her less committed to escaping her captor:
Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”
Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”
Smart now believes that to be a harmful approach to sex ed, and that kids should be taught that “you will always have value and nothing can change that.” Once again, this seems like it should be obvious. And yet, people like Pam Stenzel are still allowed to go around to public schools telling kids that if they have sex, they are awful people whose lives will be ruined forever. In 2013. This is straight up embarrassing. But with such eloquent advocates as Elizabeth Smart, I have hope yet that we’ll leave this type of fearmongering anti-education in the dark ages where it belongs.