“Yes Means Yes” law defines sexual consent

Julianna Reth, Opinion Editor

More than just revising the outdated “No Means No” slogan — California has become the first state in the country to alter how colleges define sexual consent on their campuses.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, girls ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. About 60 percent of these sexual assaults are not reported to the police.

“That’s a scary statistic, but I think the social stigma surrounding sexual assault and the possible lack of punishment makes it hard for victims to report to authorities,” senior Alexie Infante said.

In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the “Yes Means Yes” law in an effort to end the silence that surrounds sexual assault cases.

The law officially defines consent as an “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Both participants must continuously and verbally agree upon, ask, and confirm with a simple “yes” to continuing the pursuit of sexual activity rather than the explicit “no.”

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Under the bill, someone who is drunk, drugged, unconscious or asleep cannot grant consent. There is no consent if the student initiating the sexual encounter does not receive a verbal or physical explicit “yes.”

Critics of the bill say it throws everyday sexual practice into doubt and creates a haze of fear and confusion over what counts as consent. Although supporters boast the idea of “Yes Means Yes” as a step to tackling sexual violence on campuses, critics remain skeptical of the efficacy of the bill others. Others laud the bill, claiming it will make a difference.

“This is amazing,” said Savannah Badalich, a student at UCLA, on “Business Insider.” “It’s going to educate an entire new generation of students on what consent is and what consent is not … that the absence of a no is not a yes.”

Opponents of the “Yes Means Yes” law argue that rape cases are always a “he said” or “she said” blame game and that the two people involved may have different stories. The conflict is often ambiguous and often there is no way to definitively prove that the act wasn’t consensual. Revising the standard doesn’t prevent lying or make it any easier to detect.

“What if an individual with animosity towards their prior partner decides to turn he or she in as a rapist because the individual did not explicitly say ‘yes’ the last time they were involved?” said BC alumna Jessica Nguyen, a freshman at Cal Poly. “Since not objecting does not constitute consent, it will allow victims to declare a case of rape against those who committed sexual acts toward them while the victims are unconscious or drugged.”

“As a college student, I think it’ll affect students in a positive way,” said BC alumnus Anthony Tran, a freshman at Cal State East Bay. “Being able to state whether or not they give consent clearly prevents any misunderstandings and reduces the amount of gray areas; however, I don’t think this law will work to prevent or help cases regarding rape because it does not fully provide a solution and still leaves room for arguments.”

Other people have also addressed that the bill shifts the burden of proof to (usually male) students accused of sexual offenses, turning the controversy into a gendered issue.

“Laws might be gender neutral and inclusive, but their applications are not—it truly is a war on men,” said Harry Crouch, President of the National Coalition for Men (NCFM), on “The Observer.”

Critics fear the overflow of cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for ambiguous situations.

However, there’s nothing ambiguous about the Rolling Stone’s story in its December’s issue describing the alleged assault of a freshman identified as “Jackie” and her disturbing account of being violently assaulted at her first frat party at the University of Virginia by seven men for over three hours.

According to the “Chicago Tribune,” “Jackie” did not give consent to being gang-raped when she unknowingly accepted her date’s invitation to go “upstairs, where it’s quieter.” Furthermore, the university didn’t begin an investigation of Phi Kappa Psi until it learned a magazine piece was in the works — even though “Jackie” had reported the incident more than a year earlier.

Although the efficacy of the bill is being questioned and debated, nearly everyone agrees about the importance of educating people about rape itself.

“With or without the law, I would be mindful about consent and I would hope that others would too,” senior Thomas Villalpando said. “I believe that it is morally right to have respect for that person and not let hormones takes over your actions that could maybe lead to you being put in prison.”

For more on the UVA incident and to read the full “Rolling Stone’s” article, go to The Bruin Voice’s website for a link.