CREDIT: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
California lawmakers passed a bill on Thursday that would make the Golden State the first to clearly define when “yes means yes” in campus sexual assault investigations. The legislation passed through the Senate by way of unanimous vote and now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has yet to indicate his support for the law.
The passage of the bill known as SB-967 comes as colleges and universities across the country scramble to create policies that educate students about sexual assaults and help administrators better address allegations. It places much of the onus on would-be aggressors by stating that silence or lack of resistance would not constitute consent. Under the law, people also would not be able to give consent while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, asleep, or unconscious.
SB-967 would apply to all California public and private postsecondary schools that receive state money for financial aid. Many lawmakers, including Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) said that the bill allows California’s colleges and universities to proactively address an issue that has become a major topic of discussion well before the Obama administration launched a campus assault task force earlier this year.
“With this measure, we will lead the nation in bringing standards and protocols across the board so we can create an environment that’s healthy, that’s conducive for all students, not just for women, but for young men as well too, so young men can develop healthy patterns and boundaries as they age with the opposite sex,” de Leon said before the vote, according to the Associated Press.
Today, a college with 10,000 students could experience as many as 350 sexual assaults annually, according to the National Institute of Justice, an umbrella organization of the U.S. Department of Justice. Researchers say that women just entering college are at a higher risk of sexual assault, in part because of their age. In more than 80 percent of sexual assault cases, the victim knows her assailant. While relatively less information has been collected about sexual assaults against men, research shows that the group makes up more than 10 percent of victims raped by an acquaintance.
Often times, the nightmare for sexual assault victims doesn’t end after the traumatic event. Victims face a number of hurdles in bringing their alleged assailant to justice including a lack of confidential reporting and policies that punish them for excessive drinking, regardless of the circumstances. Many victims, as a result, experience feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear that can hinder their academic performance and cause social exclusion.
Although colleges have tried to address this issue in the past, many have done so with sexual assault prevention programs that hardly focus on educating would-be perpetrators. These programs instead call on potential victims to take preventative measures including drinking less and going out in groups.
While SB-967 would shift the focus on would-be aggressors, a few people, including Gordon Finley of the National Coalition for Men, consider the law an assault on members of the male species. In an editorial earlier this week, Finley asked Gov. Brown to not sign SB-967 saying, “This is nice for the accusers — both false accusers as well as true accusers — but what about the due process rights of the accused.” California Senate Republicans showed little opposition, however, citing that many schools have been trying to get their act together already.
Other schools around the country – including Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, Elon University in North Carolina, and Indiana University – have launched campaigns that educate students about what constitutes as a sexual assault and provides resources that allow them to confidentially report cases to campus authorities. Students at The George Washington University and University of California, Berkeley also started the academic year participating in small group discussions about sexual assault and completing an online course, respectively. A group of sexual assault survivors has also found much success in pressuring the Princeton Review and other college admissions guides to include the prevalence of sexual assaults in its rankings.