California is poised to make legislative history with their “Yes Means Yes” bill, which was passed by the California State Senate in May, and the State Assembly this week, and is now sitting on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, waiting to be signed (the Gov has until September 30th to sign the bill into law).
So what’s the deal with Senate Bill 967 (AKA the “Yes Means Yes” bill) and why does it matter? In the past, when dealing with campus sexual assault cases, administrators have gone by the “No Means No” rule, which basically means that the victim had to have made his or her “No” clear in order for the case to be viable. The problem with this, as the “Yes Means Yes” bill’s sponsor, Senator Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles explains, is “It’s very difficult to say no when you’re inebriated or someone slips something into your drink.” Just because a person can’t get the word “No” out of her mouth doesn’t mean sexual interaction was welcomed, encouraged, or consensual. With “Yes Means Yes,” the bill clearly states that students must both affirm verbally or physically that they want to have sex with one another.
In the past, victims of sexual assault on college campuses have had their cases compromised or even dismissed because the victim in question did not specifically verbalize that she did not want to have sex. Affirmative consent means that “Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent.”
“It does change the cultural perception of what rape is,” Sofie Karasek, an activist who has fought for changes in UC Berkeley’s practices, told The San Jose Mercury News. “There’s this pervasive idea that if it’s not super violent then it doesn’t really count.”
“If I’m with another person, I always check in to make sure they’re comfortable,” Meghan Warner, a Berkley junior and Greeks Against Sexual Assault leader who runs training sessions on consent, also told the paper. “It doesn’t have to be like, ‘Hello, will you sign this bedroom contract?'” she said. “It’s an ongoing conversation.”
Not everyone is on board with the bill. An L.A. Times editorial focused on the bill argued that it’s “extremely difficult and extraordinarily intrusive to micromanage sex so closely as to tell young people what steps they must take in the privacy of their own dorm rooms.” Meanwhile, J. Steven Svoboda, a spokesman for the National Coalition for Men, says that “Of course I agree that people should actually consent, but the world doesn’t work that way. There’s no way to legislate the ambiguities away,” and goes on to worry that these new rules would lead to “too many punitive situations” for young men.
I so disagree with the pushback this bill has received. Making sure that consent is actively given isn’t “micromanagement,” it’s making sure that the sex that occurs between college students isn’t rape. And I am completely put off by this worry for young men and the “punitive situations” they might find themselves in if they don’t make sure the person they had sex with actually WANTED to have sex with them in the first place.
Here are some stats about sexual assault and college campuses compiled by the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault that emphasize just how important this bill is: In the United States of America, 1 out of every 4 women will be the victim of sexual assault during her academic career, at least 80% of all college sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim, and almost half of the college women who were victims of attacks who met this study’s definition of being raped did not consider what happened to them rape.
Widespread sexual assault on campus is the twisted secret many colleges and universities keep buried deep. For victims seeking justice, the road can be a long and tough one, made longer and tougher by campuses that privilege their reputations over the safety of their students. If this bill is passed into law in California, it would not just be meaningful for California college students, but college and university students nationwide. “If the governor signs it, this will lead the entire country, the nation,” de Leon says, insisting that the passing of this bill would represent a “paradigm shift” for campuses all across the 50 states.
Here’s hoping that Governor Brown signs this bill into law in the state of California and that other states follow suit. Colleges and universities need to be a safe place for their female population. This is a paradigm shift we desperately need.