In a crowded Democratic primary field, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York knows who she is, and what she stands for. The three-term senator isn't shying away from gender issues on the campaign trail, and has been a vocal leader in the #MeToo movement as well as a prominent supporter of abortion rights. But according to the senator, opposing sexual assault and supporting reproductive choice starts earlier — way earlier. Kirsten Gillibrand shared her stance on consent-inclusive sex education with Elite Daily, and let's just say she's thinking big picture.
At Mic and Bustle Digital Group's town hall on Monday, July 22, Gillibrand tells Elite Daily that she thought the first step to supporting reproductive choice for teens and young adults was sex education. "I think you’ve gotta start at grade school in age-appropriate ways, and then you have to guarantee that children have access to whatever health care they need for teens, for young adults, and that means access to contraception," she says. She tells Elite Daily that she supports guaranteeing contraception through Medicare For All, the universal health care system proposal that Gillibrand, as well as several other Democratic presidential candidates, have supported. In 2017, the senator co-sponsored a bill to introduce the health care policy.
But one of the biggest things for Gillibrand? Consent-inclusive education. "It’s really important that young people get age-appropriate sex education starting in grade school," she says. "So they understand what healthy relationships look like, understand what’s happening in their bodies, [and] understand what consent is, so these are not new topics when they get to high school," she said. She suggests that giving young people an informed way to think about consent can help prevent sexual assault and give survivors the tools to report it when it happens.
"I have a piece of legislation to start that education in grade school and high school, along with [Virginia Senator] Tim Kaine, actually, because it’s really important," she says. Gillibrand's team did not immediately provide additional information on the legislation. She cites an unnamed New York constituent who was sexually assaulted as a young child. "What she realized as a young child is that she didn’t have the words to tell her teacher that she was being sexually assaulted ... she knew that if young kids could have that basic tools of language to be able to report, she knew that a girl like her wouldn’t have been needlessly assaulted over and over again."
Gillibrand has previously supported efforts to improve sexual education. In 2015, she introduced The Child Sexual Abuse Awareness and Prevention Act to the Senate, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada. The act would fund "Erin's Law," which requires schools to implement programs that provide "age-appropriate" lessons on recognizing and reporting sexual abuse. As of July 2019, Erin's Law has been passed by 36 states, and is currently waiting on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature to become law in Gillibrand's home state of New York.
With the 2020 presidential race in its early stages, Gillibrand has taken a stance promoting women's issues. The senator from New York has released a four-point plan to protect reproductive rights, pledging to nominate federal judges who would protect abortion rights ruling Roe v. Wade; to increase funding for Title X, which provides funding for contraception and family planning to low-income families; to protect reproductive rights and care organization Planned Parenthood; and to repeal restrictions on abortion access like the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion, and the "domestic gag rule," which prohibits health care providers from giving referrals for abortion.
At the public portion of the town hall event, Gillibrand also addressed several other topics, including her actions during the scandal caused by sexual harassment allegations against Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota in 2017. Gillibrand was one of several senators to call for Franken's resignation following multiple allegations of groping or harassment against the senator. The Minnesota senator apologized at the time, but in a July 22 New Yorker story, Franken raised questions about the veracity and intent of the allegations against him, claiming they hadn't been well-vetted and that fellow Democrats in the Senate had been too quick to turn on him.
Gillibrand, however, did not back down from her stance that Franken was right to resign. "There is no prize for someone who tries to hold accountable a powerful man who is good at his day job," she said. “So, no. I do not have any regrets.”
With her take-no-prisoners stance on consent and reproductive rights, she clearly has a purpose, though. From start to finish.