Teens push for greater understanding of consent, change sex-ed curriculum

When Tessa Hill and Lia Valente worked on a school project, they had no idea their research would lead to changes in Ontario's sex-ed curriculum.
Lia Valente and Tessa Hill fought to have the issue of consent included in Ontario's sex-ed curriculum. (L. Valente/T. Hill)

When Tessa Hill and Lia Valente created a film for a media studies class in Grade 8, they had no idea their research would help change Ontario's sex-ed curriculum.

"When I was about 11 or 12, I started to see these comments towards me and my friends," Hill said, "about either how we were dressing, or comments like 'she looks so hot... she has the biggest boobs in the class.' We were all just beginning puberty so you're extra self-conscious about your body.

"At that point I was starting to understand that that wasn't something that I agreed with, and it was something that I knew was wrong."

School dress codes also sent a message, said Valente. "Don't even show your shoulders," she said. "It was basically saying you are a sexual object, and if this happens then something bad will happen to you."  

So when Hill and Valente were preparing for their school project, they chose rape culture as their topic. 

A graphic created by Grade 8 students Lia Valente and Tessa Hill to push for changes to the sex-ed curriculum in Ontario schools. (L. Valente and T. Hill)
During their research, the two girls realized that more information was needed in classes about the subject of consent. 

"Consent is a mutual agreement between people," Hill said. "An enthusiastic, 'Yes please, I am totally into this.'"

"We looked into the curriculum, and found out that information about sex on its own was very minimal," Valente said, "and consent isn't even a word that is used.

"This is ridiculous because consent is mandatory. Sex without consent is rape," she said. "So it's very important that consent is taught to young kids."

The Ontario curriculum hadn't been updated since 1998 — before the girls were born.

Hill and Valente created a petition calling for consent to be a topic in Ontario's new sex-ed curriculum. Their petition raised over 40,000 signatures in one month.  

I think a lot of the time the voices of young people are overlooked. I feel like we're moving towards a place where youth have a seat at the table.- Tessa Hill

They even met with Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne to discuss the proposed changes.

"She was super down-to-earth," said Hill.

"I remember her talking about her own history of activism when she was in high school, getting the dress code changed to let girls wear pants. She was on the exact same page as us about consent."

Not everyone agreed with the curriculum changes.

"People were protesting against the new sex-ed curriculum in general," said Valente. "Some of the pushback was directed at us, and even though sometimes it was a little bit discouraging, that wasn't a big part of it for us."

"One of the things about the curriculum is that it starts to talk about consent in a context of friendships and body language and empathy," said Hill. 

"Talking about listening to other people, what they want, how their facial expressions look — that was super important to Lia and I."

Watch the documentary that Hill and Valente made, Allegedly.