California recently became the first state in the nation to pass a bill defining sexual consent on college campuses. If Governor Jerry Brown signs the legislation (he has until the end of the month), the state would require all colleges and universities to set a standard of “affirmative consent” for sexual activity. Both parties would have to say yes to sex before having relations.
The bill states that students would have to consent upfront (either verbally or nonverbally) and that the affirmative consent has to be “ongoing throughout the sexual activity,” meaning that both people have to agree to each step of a sexual encounter as it progresses. It further stipulates that consent can be revoked at any time and makes clear that intoxication cannot be used as an excuse for believing there was consent.
College administrators investigating sexual assault cases will now be required to ask: “Did he/she consent?” rather than, “Did he/she say no.” Failing to do so could result in a college or university losing federal funding.
The bill has generated plenty of controversy. Victims’ advocates have hailed it because it challenges the notion that a person has to resist an assault in order to have a valid complaint. Too many times, they argue, victims are expected to show that they had verbally or physically resisted the other person’s advances, so they have a hard time convincing campus judicial boards that they’ve been raped.
But critics argue that the legislation’s “affirmative consent” standard unfairly burdens those who are accused of sexual assault and that it will deny the accused person due process. Others argue that it’s unreasonable to expect any two people to stop at each step of a sexual encounter and ask, “Can I do this now?”
This week’s “YouSpeak” asks: What do you think of the California bill requiring each party to say yes before having sex?
“YouSpeak” typically appears on Mondays. If you have a suggestion for a topic, leave it in the Comment section below.
Jay Colamaria can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.