This post was updated on September 4 at 12:56 a.m.
Last week, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill that, if signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, will change the way some colleges and universities have to define consent.
This board strongly supports the bill for its specific definition of sexual consent, the first of its kind in any state assembly.
Commonly dubbed the “yes means yes” bill, Senate Bill 967 outlines a standard of “affirmative consent” for colleges and universities that receive state funding for student aid – that means, according to the text of the bill, “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” that may be revoked at any time. The bill also requires that these institutions provide resources for survivors of sexual assault and improve their education and outreach programs.
While “yes means yes” seems like an obvious enough standard for providing and receiving consent from a sexual partner, the bill is in fact unique in the explicit exclusion of silence or lack or resistance from its definition of consent. This specification arms survivors of sexual assault who may have remained silent or otherwise not resisted during their assaults. That silence, often born of fear or shock, could no longer be used against survivors during the reporting process if this bill is signed.
Providing survivors with this kind of security is particularly critical considering the disturbing prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and the seeming incompetence of many universities to sensitively and adequately handle reports of sexual assault.
A recent federal report found that one in five women and about three in 50 men are sexually assaulted during college. Nearly 50 colleges nationwide, including UCLA as of Aug. 13, are under federal investigation for their handling of sexual assault allegations.
Those numbers are scary and unacceptable. While the passage of this law will not be a solution by itself to the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses or to the common invalidations that survivors of sexual assault face from law enforcement and school officials, it validates the experiences of many survivors and gives universities a uniform standard to abide by.
That standard, which calls for a clear, communicated and ongoing “yes” from all partners involved, also means that universities must improve their education and outreach programs to incoming and current students. We all have to be aware of what consent is – how to get it and how to give it. Laws may not be able to change everything by themselves, but changing the way we think and talk about sexual consent is a good place to start.