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On Thursday, March 14, 2019, Rep. Dell Kerbs introduces 20 of 22 high school "pages" who served the House of Representatives over the past week. (Tres Savage)
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Around 10 p.m. Wednesday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted down HB 1007, a proposal that would have annually required schools to provide education about consent and healthy relationships.

Called Lauren’s Law, the bill failed 39-56 after extensive questions and debate over the word “culture” and whether “abstinence” should be taught as well.

“This deals with consent and healthy relationships. It’s not sex education. I’ve tried to make that as clear as possible, so abstinence doesn’t enter into that,” Rep. Jacob Rosecrants (D-Norman) said during questions about his bill.

But in the hours after Lauren’s Law failed on the House floor, word spread among lawmakers that two high school students serving this week at the Capitol did not return to the building Thursday after one alleged sexual assault by the other.

Called “pages,” rotating groups of high school students learn about the legislative process and stay in an metro hotel under strict supervision.

“We had two pages dismissed from the program. They violated our rules for the pages,” said Rep. Dell Kerbs (R-Shawnee), who oversees the program.

Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said the investigation is ongoing and that the incident was reported as an alleged “sexual assault” involving two minors around 8 p.m. Tuesday at a Midwest City hotel.

“Apparently the victim contacted the high school where she lives. They in turn contacted the Highway Patrol, and then the Highway Patrol contacted us [Wednesday],” Clabes said.

House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) mentioned the situation Thursday afternoon during a press conference recapping the week.

“We don’t have much information at this time,” McCall said. “All I can tell you is that the appropriate authorities are following up on that incident.”

McCall emphasized that no lawmakers were involved in the incident.

Later Thursday, House staff confirmed that the chamber’s page program had been suspended pending further review.

‘It can happen that close’

Norman resident Stacey Wright watched the debate over HB 1007 on Wednesday evening. The founder of Yes All Daughters, Wright had spent the week advocating for the bill and said Thursday morning that she was “crushed and baffled” that it failed in the House.

“We had a funding-neutral bill with state agencies that can implement it and community-based organizations that are willing to support it and implement it, and it got hung up by ignorance and ideology,” Wright said. “I don’t understand how lawmakers up there couldn’t see that we need to make this a priority in Oklahoma with our awful statistics.”

Informed about the allegation of a sexual assault occurring this week within the House page program, Wright called it “ironic.”

“There’s a statistic that says 81 percent of parents don’t believe this is an issue that their kids have to face, and that was very clear last night by the votes that came in,” Wright said. “It can happen that close.”

Rosecrants ‘got knocked out’ protecting a friend

Rosecrants discussed his bill Thursday in his office, blaming “flat-out ignorance” for its failure.

“As a teacher, I’ve had these concerns. I’ve had to call the authorities. It’s the reason why I’ve run the bill twice now,” he said, noting that a weaker version of Lauren’s Law (HB 2734) passed the House last year.

While discussing the value of educating students about consent and healthy relationships, Rosecrants detailed a story when he “was beat up” in high school.

“I was trying to protect a young lady who was incapacitated in the bathroom,” Rosecrants said. “I was holding the door, and I said, ‘Absolutely not. You cannot get in there.’ He was like, ‘Well she’s drunk. I want to get in.’ I said, ‘That’s not going to happen.’ So I took one to the face. I got knocked out.”

Rosecrants said that he benefited from having parents who talked to him about boundaries and consent, but he said many students do not receive that guidance at home.

“The more I look back on it, the more I realize that sexual assault was very common,” Rosecrants said. “It just blows me away that we are not doing more to prevent sexual assault.”

Virgin: ‘This body has a long way to go’

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) said the allegation of sexual assault between House pages should be taken seriously.

“Situations like this occur all the time for our children who are in junior high and high school, and that really underscores the need for this legislation,” Virgin said of Rosecrants’ bill. “Our kids need to know that ‘No’ means ‘No’ and ‘Yes’ means ‘Yes.'”

“This body has a long way to go in regards to giving our kids the information they need.”

Rep. John Talley (R-Stillwater) was one of a handful of Republicans who voted for the measure.

“Evidently we have some serious problems in Oklahoma,” Talley said. “What could it hurt to talk about getting the freedom to say ‘No.’ That’s all I could see from [the bill].”

Virgin pointed to the Legislature’s recent implementation of sexual harassment training after a series of inappropriate incidents involving lawmakers.

“What Rep. Rosecrants’ bill sought to do was provide that information at a younger age so that we don’t have a culture like we have had in the past in this building where people don’t know what’s appropriate and what’s not and they don’t have the appropriate boundaries,” Virgin said. “We need to look at the broader picture and see that we need to be providing this information much earlier.”

(Clarification: This story was updated at 3:04 p.m. Thursday, March 14, to clarify that the alleged victim and the alleged accuser were the students who did not return to the House page program Thursday. It was also updated to clarify the location of the hotel. At 5:24 p.m., it was updated to include information about the page program’s suspension.)

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