Students at California universities will all be held to the same standard when it comes to sexual assault and consent, after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a groundbreaking piece of legislation Sunday.
The new law will require all schools that receive state funding to adopt an “affirmative consent” standard in their sexual assault policies. This standard, also sometimes called “yes means yes,” requires clear and ongoing consent, rather than just an absence of resistance.
California is the first state to pass a bill like this. Schools throughout the country already have affirmative consent standards on the books, but this is the first time a state will make that universal.
"Every student deserves a learning environment that is safe and healthy. The State of California will not allow schools to sweep rape cases under the rug. We’ve shifted the conversation regarding sexual assault to one of prevention, justice, and healing," state Sen. Kevin de Leon, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement.
The White House unveiled a new campaign on Sept. 19 aimed at addressing campus sexual assault. “It’s on Us” targets members of the campus community, men in particular, to encourage them to step in and intervene in situations where someone might be preparing to commit sexual assault.
And student activists across the country continue to press their schools to make disciplinary policies stronger and enforce them better. A Huffington Post investigation found that fewer than one third of campus sexual assault cases ended in expulsion for the perpetrators.
Activists supported a higher standard as one way to help battle the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. An estimated one in five women will deal with sexual assault while at college.
Meghan Warner, leader of the Cal Consent Campaign at UC Berkeley, said that the bill is an important step. “Education and outreach measures will help create a culture of consent where survivors are supported instead of blamed, doubted, and ignored, as many of us are,” she said in a statement. “The affirmative consent standard will help change the re-victimizing, insensitive reporting procedures, instead allowing students to seek help and hold perpetrators accountable. This is a major victory for all California students, not just survivors.”
The law also requires more training for the university staff members who adjudicate sexual assault complaints, and mandates that counseling and health services be available to victims of assault.