Until recently, the “no means no” policy, which states that in order to be legally culpable for not obtaining sexual consent, the partner must explicitly say “no” or imply “no” through actions and resistance, has been the national standard of consent for sexual relations on college campuses. The recent passage of Senate Bill 967 in California, however, is causing a national conversation on the definition, and the redefinition, of sexual consent.
Senate Bill 967, or the “Yes Means Yes” bill, requires all California college campuses that receive state funds for financial assistance to adopt certain sexual assault policies and protocols that include an “affirmative consent standard.” The bill defines “affirmative consent” as “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” and states that the “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.”
California is the first state to respond in this manner to the White House’s Task Force initiatives to prevent sexual assault on college campuses.
We at The Emory Wheel applaud this bill as a good first step towards college sexual assault prevention, especially as it creates a legislative precedent that other governing bodies can follow. However, we believe that there also needs to be a change in American cultural attitudes towards sexual interaction in order to change an alarming pattern of sexual assault cases across the nation. Legislative action may be helpful in pushing for a more open-minded approach towards sexual assault cases, but a more expansive cultural change is needed to see more productive results.
Critics of this California bill believe that it oversteps state boundaries by micromanaging sexual encounters. However, we believe the government has a duty to protect citizens who experience crime – and sexual assault is certainly a crime. The California bill aims at a more proactive formulation of the language of consent. We at the Wheel think that reforming sexual language and language of consent can be one of many factors that produce cultural change, and that protecting people from sexual assault should be valued more highly than the bill’s overstepping into personal encounters.
Although California is the first state to create a statewide initiative to change the language of consent, many universities, including Emory, have already begun to develop similar standards on a smaller scale.
Emory University defines consent in its Codes of Conduct in a similar way to the “yes means yes” law: Sexual consent is “clear, unambiguous and voluntary agreement between participants to engage in specific sexual activity. Consent is active, not passive, and is given by clear actions or words. Consent may not be inferred from silence, passivity or lack of active resistance alone. A current or previous dating or sexual relationship is not sufficient to constitute consent and consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity. Being intoxicated does not diminish one’s responsibility to obtain consent. In some situations, an individual may be deemed incapable of consenting to sexual activity because of circumstances or the behavior of another, or due to their age.”
We at the Wheel applaud Emory for defining consent in the vein of the California bill. We acknowledge that Emory is developing thoughtful initiatives to create campus-wide awareness of sexual assault, sexual assault prevention and guidelines for sexual interactions. Creating Emory, an Orientation program that began with the Class of 2017, includes a session on sexual assault.
This session has been further developed to provide extensive attention towards sexual assault prevention and awareness of proper responses for incidents of sexual assault. We believe that Creating Emory, along with Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA) that trained over 400 students in the first week of school and the Respect Program, is putting Emory on the right track to properly prevent incidents of sexual assault.
We hope Emory continues its awareness initiatives, but we at the Wheel believe that Emory needs to provide more transparency around the consequences of sexual misconduct and assault. The lack of clear or possible repercussions for sexual misconduct raises the question of how Emory’s policy on sexual misconduct is being enforced. We believe clearer consequences for sexual misconduct can act as a deterrent for those who would commit sexual assault and may increase Emory’s progress towards being a safer campus.
We applaud Emory for the attention and progress it has made regarding sexual assault prevention and acknowledge that we have a long way to go. We appreciate the work of the former director of the Respect Program Lauren Bernstein (LB), who played a big role in beginning the dialogue on sexual assault. We hope that Emory continues to progress and makes consequences of sexual misconduct clearer.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s editorial board.