SHANNON QUINN, EDUCATION DIRECTOR
This past month, California passed a law mandating that colleges follow a “yes means yes” consent policy for dealing with sexual assault on campuses. This law follows months of momentum across the country, with calls from the White House and groups on campuses such as Students Against Sexual Assault to drastically change how colleges handle sexual assault cases.
In order to be eligible to receive state funds for student financial aid, public and private universities in California that accept state grants must adopt an expanded definition of consent. The new law states, “It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. 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.”
This law is certainly a victory for advocates who have been pushing for a change in responses to how sexual assault is handled. Considering one in four women in college are sexually assaulted, it’s time to start taking education seriously and uniformly. Other states and the District of Columbia should follow suit in order to push colleges towards making their campuses safe for students.
For example, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on October 2 that the SUNY campuses will comprehensively reform their policies on sexual assault to match up with the affirmative consent model. This shows that states are beginning to take seriously the call to action on sexual assault and enact the policies from advocates.
Along with these new policies, there needs to be a fundamental reform of how we educate students about sexual assault and violence. While colleges should transition to educating incoming students on the “yes means yes” policy immediately, it should also be integrated into education as early as possible in order to shift the paradigms of how sexual assault is viewed and understood.
High school health classes vary from state to state on sex education policies. This “yes means yes” consent model should be put into these health curricula across the country, which will reinforce positive sexual values such as respect and communication. By providing students with inclusive sex education that parallels the standards they are expected to adhere to in college, this could work to decrease the number of cases of sexual assault overall. In a study done assessing the overall impact on different sexual assault education programs across colleges, community development organizations, and other groups, it was found that 90% of the education programs had positive outcomes in knowledge and comprehension about sexual assault.
These programs focused on clear communication and empowerment of women to understand their choices when it comes to sexual behavior. Students should understand the legal definitions behind the personal choices that they will be confronted with both in college and throughout life. Putting affirmative consent definitions and explanations into the curriculum would expose students to the idea early, allowing them to grapple with it and gain a thorough understanding before they’re confronted with the realities of rape culture that are pervasive in college life.
While emphasis on punishing perpetrators of sexual assault is of high importance, it’s also vital to look at educating comprehensively and clearly to reduce incidence of sexual assault. If students are exposed to these important consent standards earlier, it will begin to shift attitudes on sexual behavior and assault, which would be a welcome first step to combating rape culture and making campuses safer places for students.
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