Yes Means Yes: California Gets Tough on Consent in Effort to Combat Campus Crimes

With a rash of recent stories of college campus sexual assaults has come a controversial California law requiring affirmative consent prior to a sexual encounter between students. Although this seems somewhat intuitive, think about situations from your college days filled with hazy nights and experimental encounters with a variety of partners. Upon giving it more thought, was “affirmative consent” always given? The answer is likely no, as physical contact between partners often takes the course laid out by nature.

Old Dangers Lead to New Legislation

With the dangers lurking on college campuses in the 21st Century, this new law has been enacted to protect students from each other, and shows the need for institutions to train members of their communities on the prevention of sexual violence. Although California has taken the legislative step to require affirmative consent, the federal Campus SaVE Act requires colleges and universities to provide training and education on the prevention of violent crimes by all institutions that receive federal funding. As such, now is as good a time as any to instruct students and faculty on the importance of consent prior to engaging in sexual conduct.

Students Confused by, yet in Support of New Law

In a recent story by Cosmopolitan magazine, the author traveled to the capital of college partying, the University of California at Santa Barbara, to learn more about students thoughts on the controversial new California law. While in the college community of Isla Vista, the author found students both in support of and against the new law. Those who were critical of the law cited the difficulty in understanding exactly what unambiguous consent is, and how this will impact men’s ability to defend themselves from a false allegation of rape.

The takeaway from the confusion expressed by the UCSB students is that more training and education is needed to help them understand when they have received unambiguous consent, and how to go about asking in a non-threatening and non-embarrassing manner. While the majority of organized groups of students like fraternities and sororities provide detailed sexual violence prevention education (and ironically wind up the target of media scrutiny) it is the students attending house parties taking shots of flavored vodka with students they just met (like those visited by the Cosmopolitan author on Del Playa drive) that need the opportunity for greater understanding of exactly when “yes means yes” and “anything else means no” since they are not required by an organization to attend mandatory training.

With Education Comes Prevention

California’s new informed consent law is a complicated statute that will take years to build a body of case law around fleshing out the definition of “unambiguous consent.” Until then campuses and members of their community have a duty to educate students by providing scenarios and food for thought so that they can make informed decisions about whether it is safe to proceed with their behavior.  Contact for more information about our prevention of campus violence courses and remember to follow us on TwitterGoogle Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on employment law and compliance issues that may impact your organization!


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