The state of California redefined the law of consent for sexual activity on college campuses to require affirmative consent in a piece of legislation entitled “Yes Means Yes.”
Under the new legislation, for two parties to engage in sexual activity, there must be, “an affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision,” from each party. Additionally, each party can revoke that consent at any time.
Setting the legislation apart from the “no means no” definition of consent, the legislation specifically outlines that consent does not include lack of protest and cannot be given if someone is asleep or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“The State of California will not allow schools to sweep rape cases under the rug,” California State Senator Kevin de León, who introduced the bill, said in a statement.
The bill further requires colleges to put rules in place that protect the privacy of survivors, train campus officials, and provide counseling for survivors.
Laura Kovach, director of the Georgetown University’s Women’s Center, applauded the legislation, adding that she hoped that more states would follow California’s footsteps.
“I believe that everyone is paying attention to what California has done and we may see more states, and perhaps the Federal government, move in the direction of Yes Means Yes legislation,” Kovach wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Sarah Rabon (COL ’16), president of Take Back the Night, a student advocacy group combatting sexual assault, praised the “Yes Means Yes” legislation as clearing up ambiguities that were present in the “no means no” definition of consent, which can cause sexual assault trials on college campuses to be dismissed too easily.
“Consent is about the presence of a ‘yes,’ not the absence of a ‘no.’ ‘No means no’ definitions can sometimes ignore or discredit survivors of sexual assault that were unable to vocalize their lack of consent,” Rabon wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Rabon explained the importance of the guidelines set forth by the legislation in addressing the full range of problems behind sexual assault.
“Fear, drugs, coercion and unconsciousness are just a few examples of things that can keep a survivor from vocalizing their lack of consent, but that doesn’t mean they were not assaulted or traumatized,” Rabon wrote.
“‘No’ does mean no. For me there is no debate about that. However this legislation recognizes that the majority of assaults happen between people who know each other and that consent must be achieved at every point. Hearing yes is affirming,” Kovach wrote.
Although Georgetown University’s sexual assault policy does not explicitly articulate California’s “Yes Means Yes” policy of consent, it does employ similar language as the legislation’s requirement of affirmative consent.
According to the University policy on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Assault, consent is defined as “an understandable exchange of affirmative words or actions that indicate a willingness to participate in mutual agreed upon sexually explicit touching or sexual penetration.” The Code of Student Conduct defines consent as “words or overt actions indicating a freely given agreement to the sexual act or sexual contact in question.”
Also in accordance with the California legislation, Georgetown’s policy specifically states that if one of the individuals changes his or her mind during the sexual activity, the consent is rescinded.
The Yes Means Yes legislation falls in line with the “It’s On Us” initiative recently launched by the White House to urge colleges to assess the extent of sexual assault on their campuses and take steps to prevent it.
“So the goal is to hold ourselves and each other accountable, and to look out for those who don’t consent and can’t consent. And anybody can be a part of this campaign,” President Barack Obama said at the launch event for the initiative. California universities, including Occidental College, University of California-Berkeley and University of Southern California, were included in the list release in May of the 55 colleges and universities under federal investigation for the mishandling of sexual assault cases last year. Georgetown was not on that list.
However, Kovach emphasized that the work done by the Women’s Center and student organizations on campus was still unfinished.
“We need to continue our work to educate about consent and the importance of healthy communication,” wrote Kovach.