This semester I’ve been interning at Sally’s List, a nonprofit in Oklahoma City that helps train and elect progressive women into political office. A big part of my job has been studying the Oklahoma Legislature and tracking some of the best and worst bills that are making their way through the legislative process.
One bill that garnered widespread attention was House Bill 1007, known by most as Lauren’s Law. Lauren’s Law was created by Lauren Atkins, a Norman High School student who bravely shared her story about sexual assault in 2017. Lauren was raped by a boy from her high school and was shocked to discover he did not know what the concept of legal consent meant.
This lack of knowledge largely represents a failure by the Oklahoma public school system, which does not mandate consent education as part of the sex ed curriculum. Lauren sought to change that injustice by championing HB1007, which would have required certified teachers and administrators to give students information on consent and healthy relationships.
The bill failed in the House 56-39. It never even made it to the Senate. The 56 state representatives who voted no – almost all Republican men – voted against the bill because of a debate over the word “culture” which apparently does not imply “abstinence only language.”
Senator Kay Floyd, one of only five Democratic women in the state Senate, drafted a new version of the bill with amended language she hoped would be able to pass. Floyd’s bill, Senate Bill 926, passed the House 68-21, passed the Senate 34-8, and was approved by Governor Kevin Stitt on April 23.
However, not every legislator voted “yes” or “no” on SB 926 – many representatives realized that casting a “no” vote on a consent education bill might not reflect well on them. So what did they do? They abstained from voting altogether. It’s a common and cowardly move used frequently in the legislature. Don’t want constituents to be mad and not re-elect you? Don’t want to do the job you were elected to do? Just don’t vote! Say you have to go to the bathroom right before the vote and you’ll outsmart the system. You’re off the hook.
This is what the majority whip, Rob Standridge (R-15 – representing Norman), decided to do. Standridge visited one of my classes on the University of Oklahoma campus recently to speak with us about his job. At one point, he asked if any of us were in favor of the constitutional carry bill that had been signed into law just a few weeks before. He also asked our opinion about guns being allowed on campus and in the residence halls.
Full disclosure: I grew up shooting guns with my dad. We would go to Bass Pro Shop on weekends and practice target shooting with his Smith and Wesson. I even taught riflery classes at a summer camp in Texas. I know how to shoot a gun and I’m knowledgeable about the issue, which is why I am against open carry on college campuses.
I understand that any issue pertaining to guns is going to be hotly contested in this country, especially in a state like Oklahoma. I expect the Republican majority whip to vote in favor of loosening gun regulations. What made me most angry was not Standridge’s ideas about guns alone, but rather his justification for why they’re needed.
Standridge is of the opinion that women on campuses might need guns to protect themselves. He talked about his daughters, who will be entering college soon, and shared several anecdotes about weak, defenseless women in their homes who were spied on, stalked and harassed by random men.
One of the women in my class had the good sense to ask him about why we are only focusing on what women can do to protect themselves from male violence rather than what we can do to stop male violence itself. His answer for that one was that he supports giving rapists longer prison sentences.
We countered by pointing out that longer sentencing has not been proven to deter rapists and criminals from perpetuating crimes in the future, and that we should focus primarily on how to stop sexual assault before it occurs rather than only finding retroactive solutions. Especially in a state like Oklahoma – where incarceration rates are already among the highest in the world – it seems that more prison time is not the ideal policy initiative we should be exploring to help decrease sexual assault rates.
Because Standridge was so worried about his daughters’ safety and women’s ability to protect themselves, I was curious about how he voted on this session’s consent education bills.
He never had the opportunity to vote on Lauren’s Law, since it didn’t make it to the Senate. However, he was one of six senators who abstained from voting on SB 926.
So I asked him: why didn’t he bother to vote on Senator Floyd’s bill to mandate consent education in public schools? Why not address the root causes of sexual assault, rather than trying to fix the problem by putting a Band-Aid over it? Particularly in a scenario where the “Band-Aid” is actually a deadly weapon.
Standridge’s response? Consent education is “going too far.”
Teaching students about consensual sex is going too far, but giving them a gun without training and a proper permit isn’t? According to the majority whip for the state of Oklahoma, the answer is yes. He said he wanted to be the one to teach his children about consent education, not the school.
I replied that while some children are lucky enough to have parents who teach them about sex and consent, many aren’t. Luckily, consent education isn’t a zero-sum game. Students who learn about consent from their parents and their schools will be even more educated about these issues, while those whose parents don’t talk with them about consent will have an alternative outlet to learn about this vital issue.
However, Standridge stood by his opinion that if children don’t have parents that engage with them about these issues, then too bad. They just shouldn’t learn about it at all.
Luckily, SB 926 was signed by the governor and will become law in Oklahoma, despite Standridge’s ill-informed take on the issue. But the majority whip has a lot of power over which bills get to be heard and which will die. If a man who opposes consent education and instead wants to arm women on college campuses is not who you want as your elected representative, then you should look forward to the local 2020 election cycle and cast your ballot.
As for me, I believe we deserve better. We deserve an elected representative who listens to their constituents – constituents like Lauren Atkins, who as a teenager was brave enough to share her story of rape, while her elected senator wasn’t brave enough to stay in the room and cast a vote about it.