protest against campus sexual assault - consent, rape culture

“Survivors like myself often don’t say ‘yes,’” explains UC Berkeley sexual assault survivor Aryle Butler. “We say ‘wait,’ ‘stop,’ ‘I’m not sure,’ ‘I don’t know how I feel about this,’” about the words that are often ignored by perpetrators of sexual assault and rape.

Right now, the Department of Education is investigating more than 55 colleges and universities for the mishandling of sexual assault cases and possible federal law violation as a result of it. Campus sexual violence is endemic in our country, and the mishandling of these horrific cases is something that continues to perpetuate rape culture. Like Butler, many young men and women have felt powerless in situations where sexual consult was not given, but rather assumed.

Earlier this week, California became the first state to pass a law that legally defines sexual consent. SB-967, also known as the “Yes Means Yes” bill, was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown as an effort to prevent sexual assaults and better advocate for survivors. California Senator Kevin de Leon, the sponsor of the bill, said “The state of California will not allow schools to sweep rape cases under the rug,” in a statement on Sunday. “We’ve shifted the conversation regarding sexual assault to one of prevention, justice, and healing.”

SB-967 defines sexual consent as:

“Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. 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. 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.

Meghan Warner, a sexual assault survivor and UC Berkeley student, explains, “I’ve seen that many students don’t know what consent is. Believing that using force, or having sexual contact with someone who is incapacitated is okay. Passing SB-967 forces our schools to change this widespread misinformation and acceptance of sexual violence by requiring prevention and outreach programs, nullifying the ‘I didn’t know what the policy was’ excuse for perpetrators who cry ignorance or confusion.”

As Warner, Butler, and countless others have pointed out, the absence of no is not the presence of yes. SB-967 seeks to solidify this definition in hopes of raising awareness about consent, preventing college sexual assaults, and empower survivors.

Read the full law here.

Image: Devon Buchanan via Flickr CC.