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Trigger Warning: This article includes discussion of sexual assault.
17-year-old University High School senior Sydney Epstein is the co-president of the Student Coalition for Consent at her school, and she recently gave her testimony at the House Committee hearing for House Bill 1079. Here’s more about her important work and how you can get involved.
Being the ultimate supporter. This cause truly is such a huge part of my life so whenever I see any situation where I can help women and girls in any way, I try my best to.
Can you please tell us more about House Bill 1079 and what it entails, and what your role has been in advocating for it?
House Bill 1079 was introduced by Representatives Negele, Errington, and Schaibley originally in the last congressional session. The goal of House Bill 1079 is to add under the current rape statute in Indiana that the lack of consent through words or actions is considered rape. It also adds that agreeing to a sexual act under the belief the victim knows the abuser (impersonation) would also be considered rape. Currently in Indiana, a nonconsensual sexual act is only considered rape if there is force, threat of force, or the victim is unable to consent (mental disability, etc.).
Last session, it passed the House with flying colors but was not even called to a vote in the Senate. Naturally, they reintroduced it for the most recent congressional session and we are doing everything possible to make sure it gets the hearing and vote it deserves in the Senate. Co-president of the Student Coalition for Consent (SCC), Lisa Venckus and I, each gave testimonies at the House Committee hearing in January. Additionally, as an organization we started a petition as well as setting up an email template and link so people can easily contact both the committee chair and their local state legislators to ensure House Bill 1079 gets called for a vote and their representatives vote in favor of it.
How did you become involved in advocacy?
I became fully involved in advocacy in middle school. My family has always been politically active, and at least one news station is always on in my house at any given time. This exposed me to a lot going on in the world at a pretty young age, which is most likely why I am so passionate about it. After the Parkland school shooting, I attended my first protest/rally, and it really just grew from there.
Why is this cause so important to you?
This cause is a very personal one to me. Myself along with so many other people are not given the justice they deserve; something my co-president Lisa and I set out to change. I have talked to too many people in the short time that I have been alive who have gone through similar things to myself. One out of every six women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. 60% of rapes and sexual assaults are not even reported to police because of our broken system. People know they won’t receive the justice they deserve since only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail. For this to be happening in 2022 is unacceptable. That is why this cause is so important to me; because it’s been going on for too long, and frankly, I am over it.
Similar versions of this bill have been passed in other states, so do you think this bill will pass?
I do think this bill has a good chance of passing. It is an extremely difficult thing to predict, but the overall public opinion, as well as those of legislators, seems to be largely in favor of it. The bill ran into problems last session because it was not called for a vote by the committee chair of Corrections and Criminal Law despite it passing the House on a 96-4 vote.
HB 1079 seems to have caught the public’s attention much more this session and there has been a lot more coverage through the media as well as interest groups rallying behind the bill in order to protect Hoosiers. Progress is in the form of small steps. The previous bill contained a more comprehensive definition of consent, and it was dialed back for the sake of passing this session. The Student Coalition for Consent will continue to work through the next year in hopes of continuing to build off this success, assuming the bill does pass.
“This cause is so important to me; because it’s been going on for too long, and frankly, I am over it.”
What advice would you give other young people who are interested in getting involved with a cause they care about?
First off, making connections is super important in getting involved. Reach out to people you know and work from there. There are people around that care about similar things as you. Finding those people makes it much easier to start your journey in advocacy, whatever that cause may be.
Next, is something I learned the hard way, that you are not going to be able to fix every single issue under the sun that you care about. Pick the most immediate and pressing cause to you and really run with that, rather than joining 20 different clubs at school all focused on a different thing.
How can others support you in your advocacy if they are interested?
Showing your support for a cause you are passionate about can feel intimidating, but there are many ways to get involved and help that require low commitment, with opportunities to do more if you can invest the time.
The first way to get involved is to become an active citizen and educate yourself on the issue through credible and unbiased sources, with an emphasis on keeping up to date with the bill itself and other related issues.
Additionally, we are active on Instagram, and you can follow @studentcoalitionforconsent to keep up with SCC. We have a link in our bio for our linktree that contains a petition supporting consent legislation and education, as well as an email template to support the bill. We also have a GroupMe that people can join if they are interested in getting involved, even if they don’t have much time to commit but are looking for a way to stay updated on our progress and available opportunities.
What do you plan to do after you graduate?
I have been accepted to and am planning on attending Oberlin College in the fall. I still intend on being involved in this cause wherever I go, as it is an important and ongoing issue. Student Coalition for Consent is not going away when Lisa and I graduate. I will still try to have an active hand in it and help whenever I can.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In 10 years, I see myself working as an attorney in whatever city or place that may take me. I have always been passionate about justice and fully intend on continuing that trend in my future.
RELATED: “NO” DOESN’T MEAN “NO” IN INDIANA
Stephanie Groves is the Executive Editor of Indy Maven.
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