Why affirmative consent is relevant


California lawmakers recently passed State Senate Bill 967, which requires all colleges receiving state funding to adhere to new policies with regards to dating, relationships and most notably, sexual assault. Moving away from the traditional standard of “no means no”, the bill’s basis is affirmative consent. To legally engage in sexual relations of any kind, both partners must receive a definitive yes, rather than the absence of a no. It also obligates universities to have stronger victim support in terms of responding to the initial claim of assault and providing after crisis care.

Statesman applauds this groundbreaking bill: it is the first in the nation to clarify appropriate sexual relations among collegiate students. Affirmative consent is defined in the bill as a conscious, voluntary agreement between partners with stipulations that intoxication is an automatic denial of consent, and past relations with someone does not mean automatic consent. The new definition adds greater clarity to the definition of rape, and Statesman believes that the California consent bill will ultimately confront the obscenely high rate of sexual assault on college campuses. As an additional result of the bill, students enrolled in California colleges participate in a class that illustrate the new consent law, adding to sexual assault education.

However, with the new legislation, Statesman sees some conflicts that arise in the bill. One section states that consent can be revoked any time during interactions by either partner. Though Statesman believes it is the right of anyone to remove themselves from a situation they feel is no longer beneficial or safe, it can result in confusion from a personal and legal standpoint because either partner could argue that at one point it was rape. Additionally, the bill does not not resolve the complexity of sexual assault because cases often come down to “he said, she said” which is difficult to prove with absolute certainty. The consequences for assailants have also remained unchanged which has been a point of contention for many advocates against sexual assault.

It is the unfortunate truth that sexual assault is a common occurrence on university campuses, but Statesman believes positive initiatives, such as Bill 967, actively undertake a larger issue. They deviate from victim blaming and seek to improve resources for victims. Statesman feels continuing to educate students on healthy and safe dating will improve awareness and hopefully diminish assault not only at campuses but across the nation.