A bill requiring colleges and universities to adopt categorical standards with regard to sexual consent is on its way to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown to be signed into law. Stacy Teicher Khadaroo of Christian Science Monitor reports on what the proposed “affirmative consent” law would stipulate:
“In investigating complaints of sexual violence, colleges would have to define affirmative consent as: ‘affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent,’ the text of the legislation reads. ‘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.’”
Recent studies have brought the issue of campus sexual assault to the forefront of the American cultural dialogue. Khadaroo explains that a major effort is being made to shift perceived responsibility away from victims and more toward perpetrators:
“The mantra for rape prevention on college campuses used to be ‘no means no.’But prevention advocates have been pushing for a shift to ‘yes means yes.’”
California’s bill is the first of its kind in America to reach the final stages of legislation. While many praise the installment of set standards to define consent, others argue that the bill goes too far, fails to protect the rights of the accused, and opens the door to all sorts of litigative challenges. Khadaroo also notes that supporters hoping to see a staunch “yes means yes” policy at the national level are unlikely to get their wish due to the varying ways states define and deal with sexual crimes.
So could this bill serve as a model for other states? It may be some time until we know for sure, as lawmakers will likely wait to see how the aforementioned litigative challenges go before adopting affirmative consent for themselves. California’s state government is currently dominated by one party, which leads to some predictable problems, but also allows it to serve as a guinea pig for legislation that would face challenges in other states. The success or failure of the “Yes Means Yes” law, assuming it becomes law, will determine how other states construct their own bills.
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