Yale Works To Strengthen Sexual Assault Policy, Rape Definition With Campus-wide Email

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Last month, a report by Jezebel described how Yale fails to see "nonconsensual sex" as "that big of a deal," detailing how the university refuses to label the act rape, and usually punishes it with "written reprimand." The Yale Daily News staff wrote an editorial demanding expulsion be the "preferred punishment for nonconsensual sex." Now, Yale has responded to the criticism by releasing a campus-wide email containing a series of hypothetical scenarios to illustrate how it might rule in disciplinary cases.

"The scenarios are not drawn from actual cases heard by the [University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct]; the details of those cases are held in the strictest confidence," Yale explains. "Rather, the scenarios draw upon the extensive research literature on both consensual and nonconsensual sex on college campuses." 

The document makes clear that heavily intoxicated students cannot give consent, and engaging in sexual activity with someone who is unable to give consent would result in expulsion, Yale said.

Yale also says the scenarios are meant to "provide additional information and to encourage further discussion" at the beginning of the document. A number of the scenarios warranted expulsion as punishment.

For example, one scenario involves a student who says "wait — stop — that hurts," but the other restrains him or her and continues to engage in sex. The UWC punishment "would be expulsion," the document states.

In another scenario, one student follows another into a bathroom at a party, another situation that would result in expulsion. Another scenario includes a student who tells the partner, "not so fast; I'm not sure." Yale says consent was not sustained in this scenario and would lead to "multi-semester suspension to expulsion" for the partner.

Here's another example.

Sidney and Harper are dating. On several occasions they are physically intimate, but within limits set by Sidney, who is opposed to having sex at this stage of their relationship. One night, when they are being intimate within their mutually agreed upon boundaries, Harper begins to cross them. Sidney expresses concern, but Harper is encouraging, saying “it will be okay just this once.” Sidney replies “we shouldn’t do this,” but continues to touch Harper in an intimate way. As Harper initiates sex, Sidney says “this is a bad idea” and begins to cry, but embraces Harper and the two proceed to have sex.

The verdict? "Initial consent was followed by ambiguity," which would result in either probation to suspension.

Yale is currently required to report to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights until May 31, 2014 after the 2011 federal Title IX investigation into the university found it created a "hostile sexual environment." 

While the email is certainly a step in a positive direction, an email is, by nature, perhaps not the best way to ensure an entire campus is educating themselves about consent — emails are easy to overlook or quickly delete. 

The new document also emphasizes that Yale’s current definition of consent is that it "requires positive, unambiguous, voluntary agreement at every point,during a sexual encounter — the presence of an unequivocal 'yes' (verbal or otherwise), not just the absence of a 'no.'" 

Yet, having sex with a crying student who says, "We shouldn't do this" is labeled as "ambiguity," and punished with probation? 

Consent is not always an easy concept to navigate, which often results in victims blaming themselves after being sexually assaulted. Universities have a responsibility to support victims and not perpetuate the idea that assault is a murky gray area, but rather clear wrongdoing deserving severe punishment.

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