What Students Are Doing to Make ‘Yes Means Yes’ a Reality

The messages on Facebook sounded like the workings of an epic road-trip. “I’m leaving from Berkeley at 8:30 and have 3 seats available if anybody wants a ride,” wrote a student heading to Sacramento today. This trip, however, was more about the destination than the journey.

Today, students, activists and survivors of sexual assault from the University of California and California State University systems organized a march from the State Capitol steps to California Governor Jerry Brown’s office to deliver a petition urging him to sign the “Yes Means Yes” bill. The bill is designed to better protect victims of sexual assault on college campuses by creating a new consent standard, defined by the bill as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”

The bill, which was passed by state legislature last month, specifically outlines, “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. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.”

To date, Gov. Brown has not indicated whether or not he plans to sign the bill, though he has until September 30th to make a decision. The march’s organizers—7000 in Solidarity: A Campaign Against Sexual Assault, UCSA’s UConsent, End Rape on Campus, Cal Consent Campaign, UCLA External Vice President, UCLA Student Wellness Commission, and the Women’s Health Initiative at UC Davis—intended to raise awareness about the bill and send a message to Gov. Brown that students are calling for action.

Should the bill be signed into law, each of the state’s public and private postsecondary schools will be required to “implement comprehensive prevention and outreach programs addressing sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.” Schools that fail to do so will no longer be eligible to receive state funds for student financial assistance.

The bill itself does not alter the criminal definition of rape or sexual assault, but rather, focuses solely on ensuring that each of the state’s schools will meet minimal standards when it comes to handling sexual assault cases.

Sexual assault on college campuses has been a problem for decades. A National Institute of Justice study found that “a college with 10,000 students could experience as many as 350 rapes per year.” For reference, in 2013, more than 42,000 students were enrolled at UCLA.

Victims of sexual violence are often shamed into silence, as many schools and branches of law enforcement have been reluctant to take action against their assailants, which in turn leads to increased stigma against victims. Even when compared to the general population, in which 40 percent of all acts of sexual violence are reported to the police, the report rate of attacks on college campuses is significantly lower, with only five percent of attacks reported.

When students are deprived of the resources they need to find justice against their attackers, they end up doubly victimized. Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz recently made headlines when she embarked on a year-long art project designed to bring attention to her school’s mishandling of sexual assault cases. According to Sulkowicz, the school ignored the bulk of her concerns, and her rapist remains enrolled in classes.

Should Gov. Brown sign the bill into law, California would become the first state to enact this type of affirmative consent bill. By providing victims with stigma-reducing resources and an affirming environment where they feel safe to report their assault, the state can lead the country in shifting focus from teaching women how to avoid being raped, to teaching men to not rape.

Featured image via.

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