Way to go, California. Last Thursday, the state unanimously passed a bill called “Yes Means Yes,” which defines consent on college campuses and requires colleges to adopt policies concerning sexual assault, domestic violence, gang violence, and stalking—policies which Senator Anthony Canella says “they should have been already doing.”
The bill’s most controversial part is that it defines “affirmative consent” (a stupid redundant phrase, but whatever helps you figure it out), a necessary measure to address an issue of entitlement around sex where one party thinks that if X then Y. That is, the mentality of “If I’m really smooth, she’ll want to have sex” or “If I buy her drinks, she’ll want to have sex” or the most disturbing, “If she doesn’t say no, she wants to have sex.” The bill would also require colleges and universities to adopt “victim-centered” sexual-assault response policies.
Oh my God. I don’t want to oversell this news, but this is everything I could have used in 2008 when my university defined what happened to me as “harassment” instead of “assault” because I hadn’t used an explicit “no” until it was too late. I could have used this when campus police officers grilled me about what had happened, as if scolding me for not seeing it coming, all the while continuing to repeat that it wasn’t my fault. I could have certainly used this when my resident director suggested I read a self-help book at his recommendation, and refused to file an incident report.
College campuses are infamous for not reporting or investigating instances of sexual assaults, due to the fact that they often want to report low numbers of sexual assault to look safe, rather than actually prioritizing the safety of their students. Many schools also have strong sports cultures that create a permissive, hero worshiping, and apologist environment for young men, and young men who assault women.
And yet…haters gonna hate. Cathy Young, a writer for Time, responded to this measure (that was voted on unanimously, I might add) voicing worries that people’s sex lives will be “dictated.” She worries about the men who fear they will be more likely to be falsely accused (the statistics are currently at a miniscule 2-8%, while sexual assault statistics are at 20%, and even higher on college campuses). She clearly states she is worried about people’s sex lives being more explicitly consensual (oh nooo) and therefore less spontaneous. Even if that were true (it’s not, for more information please turn your attention to my article on consent), would I sacrifice spontaneity for a better understanding of consent and fewer sexual assaults? Absolutely. Is your sex really that much better when you’re not sure if the other person is into it? Please think about this before answering that question. This is also the woman who wrote gems for Time such as “Stop Fem-Splaining: What ‘Women Against Feminism’ Gets Right” and “Woody Allen, Feminism, and ‘Believing the Survivor.'” Her article is written in an age where dudebros on college campuses were, only a few years ago, reported chanting down the quad “No means Yes! Yes Means Anal!” Can you guess which prestigious institution that was?
I could go on forever about Time Magazine’s shitty anti-feminist POS “journalism,” but let’s look at the facts around this bill. This is not an issue of guilty until proven innocent. The police won’t break down a door and arrest everyone who’s drunk and spontaneously sexing. This bill would limit the most common defense to rape by removing the ability of the accused to say the victim “didn’t say no.” This should be consistent with any reasonable person’s view of what consent is. If a friend asks you for $20 and you don’t respond, it is inappropriate to take it out of your wallet just because you did not say “no.” This is no different. Criticism of the bill comes from fear of the things the bill doesn’t deal with: What will happen when someone is falsely accused? What is a foolproof way to establish consent? How do you determine when someone is unable to? These are tough questions, and legitimate concerns, but these concerns have not been changed for better or worse. All this does is make it so the accused can’t use silence as a meaningful understanding of consent, and the victim (hopefully) has a better support system.
Is “Yes Means Yes” perfect? By all means, no. But even after the passing of Title IX, many victims of sexual assault and rape continue to distrust the ability of their universities to keep them safe from their assailants. In many women’s spaces, women express regret that they went to campus police following their assault, who seemed to be more interested in containing the situation, as opposed to filing an actual police report. I don’t hold an unbelievable amount of faith that Universities are equipped to handle sexual assault. But this is another step into making sure there is legislation that recognizes that campuses are not doing enough to hold rapists accountable, and to support victims in this imbalance. It is a big step in addressing rape culture, whose existence many still question (oh look, it’s Time Magazine AGAIN), and making sure institutions respond appropriately.