Editor in Chief
California colleges and universities are now required to adopt an affirmative consent standard when investigating sexual assault cases that take place on and off campus involving members of the academic community.
On Sunday Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 967, also known as the “Yes Means Yes” bill, which defines affirmative consent as “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement (from both parties) to engage in sexual activity.”
“It is explicitly a victim-centered bill,” said Michael O’Connor, visiting professor at the University of La Verne College of Law.
“It will have that effect of at least making the process more friendly to victims in allegations.”
Colleges and universities will not receive state funding for student financial aid unless they adopt certain sexual assault policies in addition to the affirmative consent standard.
The bill dismisses lack of protest and silence as a defense for the alleged perpetrator.
O’Connor said even though the bill has good intentions, this new definition of consent can bring unintended consequences.
For example, O’Connor said he wonders what would happen when both parties are inebriated while engaging in sexual activity.
“The reality is that if people are honest with themselves about their own most intimate behavior, it does not usually comport with this bill,” he said.
“What we are potentially doing is labeling everyone who engages in the great majority of sexual activity as either someone who is assaultive or a victim.”
Judy Holiday, assistant professor of writing, who researches the cultural construction of violence, said the new bill changes the ownership of responsibility from the person who is making an allegation to the person who is being accused.
“Before, a victim had to prove that a rape did take place but now the person who is getting accused has to prove that it didn’t happen and that is a very significant move,” she said.
The new bill also states that a victim’s previous sexual activity or relationship with the alleged perpetrator does not signify consent.
Holiday said this works in favor of the victims who are often interrogated heavily about their previous sexual encounters.
“Previous sexual encounters are not an indicator of consent, and that includes in any given episode,” Holiday said.
“Everyone is in control of their own bodies.” Kimberly Navarro, president of One in Three, a club on campus that aims to educate and raise awareness on sexual assault and domestic violence, said perpetrators use past encounters as an excuse.
“I’m glad that it passed because now you don’t have an excuse. It’s right here. It’s in black and white. You cannot argue with it,” she said.
Holiday said the new consent policy will promote the importance of communication in relationships.
“Changing a law doesn’t necessarily stop rape or criminal activity but these additional requirements will really contribute to changing the climate on campus,” Holiday said.
Loretta Rahmani, dean of student affairs and Title IX coordinator said the University’s next step is to update its consent definition to that of the new bill.
The University is in compliance with all other mandates and regulations the bill requires, Rahmani said.
Mariela Patron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kristina Bugante can be reached at email@example.com.