“Yes means yes” will soon be the rule of thumb on California college campuses, thanks to California Senate Bill 967, which passed in the state senate Thursday. SB-967 mandates that California colleges adopt “an affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity.” The bill defines affirmative consent as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”
In other words, silence or intoxication are no longer a viable defense for those accused of sexual assault, harassment or rape. Campuses must also adopt victim-centered policies and outreach plans, and include such outreach at student orientation.
Though the bill has yet to be signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, it has already garnered critique for putting too much burden on the accused to prove their innocence. It’s not hard to find similarly-minded rants across the blogosphere that argue the bill is “unnatural” and that most sex involves non-verbal, indirect consent. These critiques suggest that the bill puts anyone engaging in sex at a higher risk for a rape accusation, rather than the population most at risk — rapists.
Though it is a problem in itself that these critics—and likely others—are not comfortable asking their partners directly if they would like to engage in sexual activities, such clearly defined standards are beneficial to everyone. If someone is worried about being accused of sexual assault, they should ask their partner if they are a willing participant, and respect the response. Everyone benefits when ambiguity is eliminated.
Unfortunately, critiques like this undermine the issue at hand. One in five students is victim to sexual assault in their time at college, according to the White House, and university campuses have come under enormous federal scrutiny for their poor response to incident reports. Seventy-six colleges are currently being investigated by the Department of Education for violations such as not investigating reports of assault or harassment.
With such a clear failure of the “no means no” standard, the least we can do is mandate consent, both legislatively and in our own relationships.
Image of #YesAllWomen protesters in Seattle on May 30, 2014, by Alex Gariand via Time.com.