By Lauren Beccue
On Sunday Sept. 28, California became the first state to pass an affirmative consent law, which requires students on college campuses to get consent before sexual activity.
The bill, signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, requires all California universities to adopt a new “yes means yes” standard for sexual assault cases. The legislation defines consent as “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” It mandates that students either give a verbal ‘yes’ or signal consent in a non-verbal way before having sex. This rule goes beyond the popular “no means no” standard, which has been criticized for its ambiguity and for placing the burden of proof on the alleged victim in sexual assault investigations.
The new law states that “lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.”
This landmark bill has sparked debates across the nation. Many students and feminist groups are hailing it as the first step to eradicating campus sexual assault.
On the other hand many have openly criticized the law, claiming that it unfairly presumes alleged criminals guilty. Others worry that the legislation is overreaching and as a result causes anyone who doesn’t obtain an explicit “yes” from their partner to unwittingly become a rapist.
California State Senator Kevin de Leon, who contributed to writing the bill, expressed frustration over this “mischaracterization” of the law. He says that jokes about needing “written consent” before sex only serve to belittle an issue that needs to be taken more seriously.
Currently there are 55 schools in the country, several of which are in California, facing a federal investigation over their handling of sexual assault complaints. The issue of sexual assault is a concern for every college campus, including our own. In June, two UT football players, Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander, were accused of sexually assaulting a woman in an on-campus dormitory. The case is still under investigation, as the players wait for their upcoming court dates later this month.
With an estimated 1 in 5 women experiencing sexual assault at some point during their college years, The White House has declared sexual assault to be an “epidemic” on college campuses. In an effort to combat this epidemic, President Barack Obama recently launched the “It’s On Us” campaign. The initiative calls for both men and women to be active parts in working towards a solution.
“Every student deserves a learning environment that is safe and healthy,” de Leon says in a statement. “The State of California will not allow schools to sweep rape cases under the rug. We’ve shifted the conversation regarding sexual assault to one of prevention, justice, and healing.”