Last week, California passed a law defining sexual consent as when both partners affirm the choice to engage in sexual activity, noting that consent cannot be given if either party is unconscious and that consent can be revoked at any time. The Yes Means Yes law gives Californian universities new standards on dealing with sexual assault accusations as well as a new definition of affirmative consent as a necessity to any sexual activity.
The law marks a definite step forward in the fight against sexual assault on college campuses by codifying affirmative consent and moving away from the old “no means no” standard, which left disciplinary ambiguity in decidedly unambiguous conditions — for example, when one party was too inebriated to say “no.” The bill has been hailed as a deterrent of sexual assault by ensuring that Californian universities adopt formalized policies that cover more than a dozen situations that can arise in sexual assault cases.
It would be prudent for the Georgetown administration to adopt a similar set of policies, even if the District of Columbia does not. It reduces the chances of sexual assault cases slipping through the system while promoting a healthy culturethat protects survivors of sexual assault and punishes perpetrators. The new standards would amend Georgetown’s current definition of sexual assault — one that still focuses on the lack of consent rather than the existence of affirmative consent — and clarify a variety of policies ranging from the contacting and interviewing of the accused to the role of institutional staff.
Some critics of the law highlight the burden that is placed on the accused, while others question if it is simply an unrealistic policy born out of government overreach. As Legislative Policy Director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Joe Cohn said in a statement, affirmative consent will be difficult toprove “shy of having it videotaped.”
However, in the case of college sexual assault, these policies are specifically designed to encourage students on college campuses to err on the side of caution and only have sex when consent is explicitly expressed. And with an issue that affects so many of our classmates in such a significant way, certainly we should accept nothing less.