California May Redefine What Sexual Consent Means

sexedInstead of using a strict, “no means no” policy on sexual consent, one California college is putting a more positive spin on sexual education by teaching that “yes means yes,” a concept that may soon become law.

At the University of California-Berkeley’s freshmen orientation, students learned that there are three pillars to sexual consent. A slide explained that they were: “Knowing exactly what and how much I’m agreeing to; expressing my intent to participate; deciding freely and voluntarily to participate.”

Speakers told the students that instead of looking for a “no,” they should instead seek out a “yes” as a sign of consent, which might come in the form of a smile, a nod or a spoken confirmation.

“There are lots of ways to express ‘yes.’ My favorite is ‘yes,'” said one speaker.

“I loved hearing that, because I’d never really heard people describe consent in that manner before,” said Yoon-Hendricks, a Sex, Etc. staff writer. “Instead of saying ‘no means no,’ ‘yes means yes’ looks at sex as a positive thing.”

It’s quite likely that students at other California schools will soon hear similar talks, as the Golden State might soon make affirmative consent a law. Senate Bill 967 would amend the education code, requiring schools whose students receive financial aid to support an affirmative consent standard.

“With all the recent press and outrage against rape on college campuses and the apparent lack of justice for many of these victims, it’s not surprising that state legislatures are stepping in to hold schools more accountable for their policies on sexual assault,” says Jenny S. Lillge, Attorney at Law, Legislative Intent Service, Inc. “If Senate Bill 967 is enacted into law, I will not be surprised if other states follow suit and enact similar laws.”

The bill has widespread support. Victims’ rights groups, violence prevention groups, and the University of California System each endorse it.

Not only does it redefine what sexual consent means and looks like, but SB 967 would also help further combat the rape culture other ways. It would require schools to implement sexual assault prevention programs, and survivor-centered sexual assault response policies.

Most importantly, though, is that affirmative consent shifts the burden from the complainant to the accused, who must then show that he or she sought consent, as opposed to the complainant trying to show that she or he said no.
“There’s this underlying assumption, unlike in any other crime, that survivors are lying or overexaggerating,” said Berkeley senior Sofie Karasek. “Having an affirmative consent standard changes the dynamic because we’re not automatically assuming that if someone didn’t say no, it means yes.”