California is now the first state to require college students on campus to receive active consent before they can engage in any sexual activity. Governor Jerry Brown announced Sunday night that he signed the affirmative consent bill that defines when "yes means yes" and adopts requirements for colleges to follow when investigating sexual assault reports.
Rather than using definitions of nonconsent such as “no means no,” the bill chooses to define active consent, which is described as “an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision” by each party to engage in sexual activity. The law applies to all colleges and universitites accepting state financial aid.
The passing of the bill comes in light of increasing pressure from students and universitites nationwide who want better ways of handling sexual assault allegations.
The bill, known as SB 967, makes it clear that silence or lack of resistance does not imply mutual consent, although consent can be nonverbal, according to lawmakers. Some universities have outlined examples in their policies such as the nod of a head or moving in closer towards a partner. The new law also says that someone who is drunk, drugged, unconscious or asleep cannot grant consent.
The bill was pushed by Senator Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, a Democrat. He believes that the legislation will start a "paradigm shift in how college campuses in California prevent and investigate sexual assaults," reported the Associated Press.
“With this measure, we will lead the nation in bringing standards and protocols across the board so we can create an environment that’s healthy, that’s conducive for all students," said de Leon. "Not just for women, but for young men as well too, so young men can develop healthy patterns and boundaries as they age with the opposite sex."
Victims of sexual assault on campus and women's advocacy groups are hopeful that the bill will provide consistency in handling sexual assault cases and challenge the idea that victims need to have resisted to have valid complaints. They sent petitions to Gov. Brown's office on Sept. 16 pushing him to sign the bill.
"Every student deserves a learning environment that is safe and healthy," De Leon said in a recent statement. "The State of California will not allow schools to sweep rape cases under the rug. We've shifted the conversation regarding sexual assault to one of prevention, justice and healing."
In addition to defining consent, the new law requires trauma-informed training for faculty handling complaints so that victims are not asked inappropriate questions. The bill also requires colleges and universities to give students access to counseling, healthcare services and other resources.
Many students are excited about the new progressive legislation. "This is amazing," said UCLA student Savannah Badalich and founder of 7000 in Solidarity, a group that educates students about consent. "It's going to educate an entire new generation of students on what consent is and what consent is not... that the absence of a 'no' is not a 'yes.'"
And yet, some critics believe the bill "is overreaching and will send universities into murky, unfamiliar legal waters," reports USA Today.
Some Republicans in the Assembly also questioned whether creating statewide legislation is the right way to go about defining sexual consent. Gordon Finley, an adviser to the National Coalition for Men, wrote an editorial urging Gov. Brown not to sign the bill. He argued that "this campus rape crusade bill" denies the accused rights to due process and makes them already seem guilty.
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