First-Ever Bill to Define Sexual Consent in California College Campuses

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Sexual assaults have been a issue affecting higher education on many college campuses. The state of California is starting to pass a bill to define sexual consent as “yes means yes“.

The bill defines consent to sex as a presence of “yes” rather than a presence “no”.  In addition, if the bill is enacted then the bill would make any private or public colleges in California adopt a student conduct policy requiring students to agree upon a “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” as a condition for state funding. In practice, colleges would be required to use the bill’s definition to educate its students about sexual assault.

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This bill comes after more than a year of pressure from the federal government, Congress, and student activists. Governor Jerry Brown will be reviewing the bill soon by the end of this week.

I believe that this definition of sexual assault by this bill creates a cultural shift about the consent. It makes it more confusing to advocate the wrongs about sexual assault. In addition, sexual activity consists of different levels because there are different views about sex. One person can deem someone groping another person as sexual assault while others could accustom to see it regularly. There is no standard definition about consent to sexual assault and a standard doesn’t reflect the real interaction between human beings during sex.

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For this bill to pass, it leaves out a portion of student public opinion because it is based off of administrative and government actions. The spirit of the law versus the letter of the law becomes a topic of discussion because of the language of the bill. Implications and literal meaning of the bill can be controversial but the overall goal of the bill is stop sexual assault.

One thought on “First-Ever Bill to Define Sexual Consent in California College Campuses

  1. Priscilla Huang

    I take it that you’re saying the bill treats the term ‘sexual assault’ as a linguistic gloss. I strongly agree that this is a problem! But I don’t think that cultural difference should be an excuse for cases of unconsented molestation or harassment where sex did not occur. I don’t like the idea that sex and molestation or even harassment can be considered equal things… I agree that there are different levels of sexual activity and they don’t all deserve equal punishment but I think the only reason to address some and ignore others (should) have to do with the amount of resources that the authorities have for dealing with all the instances of these situations. Just because something isn’t punished by law doesn’t mean that it is alright to do. Like hate crimes and money crimes, there are several kinds of crime that don’t have to go “all the way” before they have some awful effect. I think that Matsuda makes a good case for this starting on p 2356, in regard to racist speech.

    We don’t want excessive violence/punishment to result from thinking that all ‘assault’ is equal, maybe Emmet Till in the 1950’s is a really good example of this (… Even a kid under 18 can end up doing several years in jail for hitting someone in the wrong spot during a game of tag (in America, sued by a family with enough money to accomplish this). That’s how paranoid people get, possibly because they put all threat of rape into the ‘assault’ category and punish based on their fear of what didn’t happen.

    But like you said, in several cultures intentionally grabbing, pinching, feeling or petting the bodies of passing strangers is common and subtly encouraged (usually but not only in geographical spaces that have high population densities). I think the result is that the targeted groups expect it, but try to avoid it because they feel threatened in that environment. They might see it regularly, but they are not ok with the being groped without consent. Even when people are used to it there is an effect (an example of the effect, India 2013 (right after the New Delhi gang-rapes):

    I think Matsuda argues that the unacknowledged effect could be even more insidious than the obvious moments of abuse, precisely because it is ‘culturally acceptable’. If there is no standard definition, there should at least be a way to describe and classify different kinds of assault accurately…just like it doesn’t take a death for someone to get an ‘attempted homicide’ charge. This bill would provide a good meter for telling whether the actions were offensive in the first place or not.

    One (currently implemented) solution to keep colleges transparent about what goes on: Anonymous surveys must be taken on every campus. (somewhere on this link from ^ it was described as one way to keep colleges accountable). Though they delay punishments and let perpetrators get away with their deeds if no other tools for education and change are implemented, they are quite good for getting necessary information for authorities to use. Targets are more likely to report anonymously than have to identify themselves as ‘victims’ in some sense, and the surveys guide users into constructing reports with enough specificity to be useful.