Hooray for California. The state that has long had the reputation for being in the forefront of movements and has now become the first state in the country to take a major stand on protecting college women from sexual assault.
The state has become the first to adopt the so-called “Yes Means Yes” rule which defines in a clear way what consent to sex is, removing the previous defense by many of those accused of rape or assault on a woman that she consented because she didn’t say no. It was a defense that often didn’t even take into account whether a young woman was drunk, drugged, unconscious or asleep, as the new law notes. This newly signed law now defines consent in a very clear way, “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." In other words, a woman has to basically indicate yes, and some lecherous guy cannot say the lack of a no is all he needed.
By the way, the new law does say that a yes can be a nonverbal yes, but there still has to be a clear indication of consent. Frankly while I understand that inclusion into the law, it is the only area of the bill I have a problem with because I can bet you there will be many a case where a guy accused of sexual assault on a college campus is going to argue that he did receive a nonverbal consent, or that he interpreted one. And of course, the presence of alcohol, all too common on college campuses and at parties, will also cloud this seemingly clear standard. If the woman was drinking alcohol and is just short of drunk, once again, legal defense teams will certainly say consent was given or misinterpreted under the presence of alcohol.
So the new “Yes Means Yes” law is not perfect. But it is a big step forward for dealing with an issue that is very serious and affects a lot of young women, not just in California but all across the country. According to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, rape is the most common violent crime on American college campuses and 1 in 4 college women will be the victim of sexual assault during her academic career. Their research also shows that men are more likely than women to assume that a woman who drinks alcohol on a date is a willing sex partner. 40% of men who think this way also believe it is acceptable to force sex on an intoxicated woman. Thus, the need for this law - one that protects women fairly - is a necessary step.
Is this law going to stop campus sexual assaults? Of course not. In the same way that all kinds of other criminal laws don’t prevent crimes from happening. But even if it prevents a few more rapes, makes a few more guys think a bit longer before assuming they have a green light with a woman or think that if they go forward with a sex act on a woman they will easily get away with it, then the bill is a good one.
Equally as important is the message it sends to young women. It is a sign that we care as much about protecting them as we do young men. Women are always in a more precarious position when it comes to this issue. There has long been the old “she wanted it” argument used against women, a sense that if she was alone in a room with a guy at a party or after for example, that must mean she wanted to have sex. Well no. The only thing that means consent is yes. And now California has made that law.
I say again, way to take the lead California.