Culture / Education / Politics

Yes means Yes.: California’s Affirmative Consent Legislation

Last week California passed a law that caught the attention of universities across the state and people across the country. The new law, Senate Bill #967, requires that universities create and implement protocol to address sexual assault of students, faculty and staff on the college campuses. This new bill states that universities who fail to put in place procedures to educate students, intervene and deliver justice to perpetrators, will have state financial aid revoked from the campus.

As the discussion of sexual assault has increased including various activist groups, the issue has come to the forefront of American social issues. With the release of a list of colleges who were under investigation for violations in handling sexual assault cases, the U.S. Department of Education advanced full on. The list included many of Americas highly regarded and popular schools, confirming the daunting thought for many parents, educators, politicians and students that sexual violence is common on many college campuses.

Some are calling for bystander intervention programs that promote those who see situations that could lead to sexual assault to intervene. Such programs are increasingly included in freshman orientations along with awareness campaigns on campuses, putting information on everything from campus benches to building signs.

Others are trying to push a “Consent is Sexy”campaign and encourage students to realize that every act of sexual contact, whether it is kissing or intercourse requires a definite “yes.” This “affirmative consent” approach is included in the new California Bill and means that the old “no means no” slogan is no longer applicable. Instead many are calling for a new motto: “Yes means Yes.” A clear and verbalized form of consent must be enacted in order for sexual contact to be acceptable and legal. This erases any blurred lines concerning implied consent, miscommunications or lack of a definite no. The only time an act of sexual contact is legally acceptable and cannot be persecuted as sexual violence is if both parties state yes. Legislators and supporters of the bill hope that by placing these restrictions and outlines they will be able to curb the high number of sexual assaults on campuses by encouraging higher education institutes to increase education and prevention efforts.

However, educators and administrators are voicing concerns about how they are going to move forward in a productive manner. They are unsure of what approaches work and which do not, citing a “lack of data” that is hindering their efforts. Although some universities have created recent bystander programs or affirmative consent campaigns they are relatively new and therefore they have no idea of how effective they are.

While many higher education administrators, along with others, are wary of the new proposition to reduce sexual assault, it is a step in the right direction simply because it is increasing the discussion on college campuses. As discussion and education about sexual assault increases on college campuses, there will likely be a positive result. By being aware of the consequences emotionally, physically and criminally, students are widening their scope of knowledge about rape, sexual violence and sexual assault. Programs such as affirmative consent and bystander intervention will likely help decrease these instances but any means that increases the discussion of the problem may very well be the best way to help fight this issue.