California Backs "Yes Means Yes" Sexual Consent Bill, Because "No Means No" Isn't Enough

You've probably heard of the anti-rape slogan "no means no," but the tagline might be replaced by a more stringent one. On Thursday, California passed the "yes means yes" sexual assault bill, which mandates a clear affirmative agreement between two people before sex. The bill states that unwanted sexual activity should not solely be defined by saying no — the lack of a "yes" would also qualify it as nonconsensual. Given that sexual assault is alarmingly common on college campuses, the bill may could prove instrumental to changing the culture of campus sex assault.

The bill, formally known in the Senate as SB 967, was unanimously passed by the California State Senate on Thursday. Authored by Senator Kevin de León and Senator Hanna Beth-Jackson, the bill's principle characteristic is its definition of consent: "an affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." In other words, not saying no and not resisting don't qualify as consent. This takes into account the possibility that the victim was unable to say no due to drug or alcohol consumption.

By requiring an affirmative agreement, the bill also clears up any potential ambiguity between the victim and perpetrator, which has been a major roadblock for sexual assault reporters. The nature of the bill could potentially shift the entire hook-up culture of college campuses, where one in five women are sexually assaulted.

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Before the vote, Senator de León said:

With this measure, we will lead the nation in bringing standards and protocols across the board so we can create an environment that's healthy, that's conducive for all students, not just for women, but for young men as well too, so young men can develop healthy patterns and boundaries as they age with the opposite sex.
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If California Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill into law, which he must do by the end of September, all state-funded colleges and universities must revamp their sexual assault policies in accordance with the "yes means yes" measure.

Besides requiring affirmative consent between students, the bill would also enforce more support and resources for sexual assault victims and require schools to better protect the victims.

Specifically, the bill stipulates:

  • It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to obtain the affirmative consent of the other.
  • Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.
  • The existence of a dating relationship or past relationship between the persons involved does not qualify as consent.
  • It is not a valid excuse to claim the complainant affirmatively consented to the sexual activity if the accused knew that the complainant was unable to consent under the following circumstances: The complainant was asleep or unconscious; the complainant was incapacitated due to the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication; the complainant was unable to communicate due to a mental or physical condition.
  • In order to receive state funds for student financial aid, all state-funded colleges and universities must adopt detailed and victim-centered policies and protocols regarding sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, such as ensuring confidentiality for individuals involved in a sexual assault case, proactive response to sexual assault reports, providing information for on- and off-campus resources, and coordination with law enforcement.

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