The problem of sexual assaults on college campuses as well as rape among the general population have been discussed in many forums and levels over the past year. Many jurisdictions have vowed to address the issue, but California become the first state to legislate that “yes, means yes” as the new standard on most college campuses in the state.
As reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this month, odds are that one in five women in the U.S. will have an unwanted sexual experience, most likely by age 25. In the past, the onus was on victims to prove they said “no.” Now, California is requiring active consent as the new standard before all sexual activity on campuses. The consent given does not have to be verbal (a nod is fine), but lack of resistance no longer constitutes consent.
This standard is being imposed at any college that receives state funding, which would obviously include public universities but also includes most private institutions. The students at many schools receive state financial assistance. The legislation specifies that previous sexual relations between the two people should never be assumed to mean consent. In addition, given the problem of date rape on campuses, the law states that the individual cannot be incapacitated due to a substance or otherwise unable to communicate.
Some colleges in the U.S. have imposed campus rules requiring affirmative consent, but California is the first state to require active consent by law. It also stipulates that incoming students be trained about sexual assault and consent during orientation. Statistics show that more assaults happen on campuses during the first 15 weeks of the school year.
The “affirmative consent” legislation includes provisions requiring better training for faculty who review any sexual harassment and assault complaints. The new law offers other protections such as on-campus victims’ advocates.
One provision is that victims under 21 who report a sexual assault may not be punished for drinking, which has been a reason younger students have been hesitant to come forward and report an assault. Data shows that nationally many colleges have not investigated a sexual assault incident for several years. This does not mean those school do not have a sexual assault problem; it just supports estimates that 80 percent of assaults are not reported out of fear of embarrassment, the victim getting trouble or the school not taking action.
At present, 50 to 70 colleges nationwide are currently under federal investigation for the way they have handled sexual assault issues reported on their campuses. These reportedly include three California schools: the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), University of Southern California (USC) and Occidental College.
Sexual violence is an ongoing issue throughout society, not just on college campuses. The legislation making ‘Yes Means Yes’ the new consent standard at universities in California is a start, but many proponents hope it starts a wave of similar legislation in other states and is expanded beyond college campuses to apply elsewhere.
By Dyanne Weiss