Affirmative Consent Set to Change the Sexual Landscape of Colleges

We have just come out of the “Red Zone” for the year of 2014; a period of vulnerability for sexual assaults on college students between orientation and the Thanksgiving holidays, with the bulk of the victims being freshmen. The very fact that we have a so-called “Red Zone” is proof of the ubiquity of college rape culture. There is further disturbing news in that 55 colleges across the country are currently involved in rape investigations, and that 37.4% of female rape victims were college age when they were first raped.


In response to this persistent problem, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) of California recently signed into law the “yes means yes” or Affirmative Consent law. This is an ostensibly good move, as good public policy is key to effective enforcement of the law. There are many examples of good policy effecting great change in the legal landscape, shaping the justice system. This law is set to change the way colleges across the country deal with sexual assault.

If colleges in California want to continue receiving state funds, they will have to adopt an only “yes means yes” policy on sexual assault. This includes training students an officials on the new policy, as well as sensitivity training for faculty on how to properly deal with victims. The most important (and controversial) aspect of the new law is shifting the burden of proof to the initiator of sexual activity to demonstrate that he or she had the permission of the other party to proceed.

"It does change the cultural perception of what rape is," says Sofie Karasek, an activist who has been working to effect changes in how the University of California-Berkeley handles sexual assault cases. "There's this pervasive idea that if it's not super violent then it doesn't really count."

There are many arguments for and against the new legislation with various concerns and hopes. Opponents claim that it would be “extraordinarily intrusive to micromanage sex,” involving the government in our most intimate of activities. Gordon Finley, professor emeritus of psychology at Florida International University writes, “It is tragically clear that this campus rape crusade bill presumes the veracity of accusers (a.k.a. 'survivors') and likewise presumes the guilt of accused (virtually all men). This is nice for the accusers – both false accusers as well as true accusers — but what about the due process rights of the accused?”

Others claim that the requirement that the consent be ongoing is confusing. “I feel like their hearts are in the right place, but the implementation is a little too excessive,” said Henry Mu, a 24. “Are there guidelines? Are we supposed to check every five minutes?” There is the concern that constantly asking whether or not their partner still consents would “ruin good sex”.

The laws supporters rebuff those concerns, claiming that “yes means yes” will make consensual sex even more sexy; that there are many ways outside of verbal communication to give the “enthusiastic yes” that the text of the law requires.

Some proponents claim that the law will be a roundabout way of encouraging a restoration of “sexual decorum;” that it will cause men to think twice about having random hookups, finding monogamous relationships to be far less dangerous litigiously and thus more preferable.


It will be interesting to see if this law actually makes a difference. It’s a well-known fact that rapes are under reported, and this policy hopes to change that by shifting focus away from the victim’s sexual history, and more on the specific moment of the incident. This shift is a huge change that will likely change the way students conduct their interpersonal relationships. It remains to be see if this will be a good thing or not.




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