Over the last few months, the media, from right here in California all the way to the U.K., have been blasting California state legislators for Senate Bill 967, the affirmative consent standard bill, i.e., the yes means yes law. The proposed legislation, which will be up for a vote this month in the state assembly, puts public colleges and universities on the hook to better respond to reports of sexual assault by forcing them to adopt the affirmative consent standard.
Affirmative consent means “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. 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. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.”
Some of the discussion over this proposed legislation is ludicrous. It has been said by various columnists and attorneys that those who do not hear “yes” before and during sex are rapists, both men and women. Another outlet said it would be a “legalistic nightmare for college males.” Other outlets said such a law would be micromanaging sexual behavior. Further still, others have reported that the participants will need written and signed notes to engage in sexual activity. In the end, all of this is a bunch of hogwash.
Our feature, “Yes means yes,” on page 12, outlines what the law does and does not do, including changing the way suspects are prosecuted — it doesn’t impact prosecution whatsoever. What the law does address is this: Those who do not want to have sex or to be groped, etc., or those who cannot consent because they are asleep, unconscious or incapacitated due to some mental or physical disability can still report such unwanted behavior if they did not say yes; and the school must address those reports. The law is the antithesis of all those murmurings about it and what it means.
Perhaps, this law can be abused, but reverse reports of sexual assault — where women in particular report sexual assaults that did not happen — are extremely rare. The United States Justice Department said that of all the reported rape cases, only 2 percent were found to be false. But according to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 60 percent of legitimate sexual assaults go unreported while only 3 percent of those accused of rape will be convicted. Even worse, women still receive the brunt of the bashing when it comes to sex (i.e., with terms such as whore, slut, etc.). Our culture does not necessarily embrace women who speak up for themselves, but rather shames them into believing that whatever happens to them sexually is their fault, regardless of the level of participation. An avalanche of distorted sexual assault reports in the future, if the bill should pass, seems unlikely.
The fact of the matter is that those who actually have the courage to speak up for themselves should be acknowledged and given due respect. And those who engage in consensual sex, those who wanted to have sex but didn’t necessarily say yes, don’t seem like the type of people to run to their school administrators to talk about their sex lives. While most people turn their noses up at more bureaucracy, sometimes such laws are necessary to mandate respectable behavior in this “civilized” nation. We support SB 967 and encourage you to voice your support to your local assemblymembers.