College Sexual-Assault Bill to Be Discussed by California Legislature

This month, the state legislature is expected to debate SB-967, a bill to reduce college sexual assault. But rather than simply increasing punishment for people accused of rape and sexual assault on college campuses, the bill goes a step further. SB-967 aims to not only decrease sexual assaults in the first place but also make the system better for victims and incentivize schools to pay attention. Characterized as "yes-means-yes" legislation, the bill was passed by the California Senate in May. This month, it comes before the Assembly (the state's equivalent of the House of Representatives), just on the heels of the introduction of another sex-assault bill by U.S. senators. As SB-967 comes up for a vote, here's what you need to know:

It Defines Consent in a Huge Way

If passed, SB-967 will give the victims of sexual assault more recourse – and probably make victims feel safer reporting sexual assault in the first place. The bill defines consent as follows:

An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity. “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.

It Takes Consent Very Seriously – For All Parties

People accused of sexual assault won't be able to get off the hook if they were drunk any more than if they assaulted a drunk person. Among the bill's list of invalid excuses for assaulting or raping someone are:

Being drunk. "The accused’s belief in affirmative consent arose from the intoxication or recklessness of the accused."

Assuming it was all good. "The accused did not take reasonable steps, in the circumstances known to the accused at the time, to ascertain whether the complainant affirmatively consented."

Just not checking in. "The complainant affirmatively consented to the sexual activity if the accused knew or reasonably should have known that the complainant was unable to consent to the sexual activity."

It Gives Schools a Reason to Pay Attention

SB-967 applies to all schools that receive public funding, from the giant UC system down to smaller private universities and community colleges. Any schools that want to keep receiving state funding must revise or create sexual assault policies compliant with the pretty comprehensive list of criteria laid out in the bill. It reads:

In order to receive state funds for student financial assistance, [schools receiving public funding] shall adopt detailed and victim-centered policies and protocols regarding sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking involving a student that comport with best practices and current professional standards.

Good luck, SB-967. We're all counting on you.