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California passes 'Yes Means Yes' bill

The state will require colleges and universities to use an affirmative consent standard in sexual assault policies.
USC Campus
The University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles.

California has passed a bill that will require all universities to adopt an “affirmative consent” standard in sexual assault policies. If Democratic Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill the state will be the first to adopt such a law.

The bill passed Thursday, as students begin a new school year and colleges and universities continue to struggle to deal with sexual assault on campus. Many colleges already include affirmative consent, also known as “yes means yes,” in their policies, but the bill would require all schools that receive state funds to use the standard in order to continue to receive money.

The bill defines affirmative consent as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” It also states that a lack of resistance is not equivalent to an explicit assent, and that consent “must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.”

Sexual assault survivors and activists have been pressing schools to change their policies and the Department of Education to enforce Title IX, the gender equity law that requires schools to investigate sexual assault reports. In April, a White House task force released a series of recommendations and model policies for schools, and in July, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced legislation to tackle the problem.

Seventy-six colleges and universities are currently under investigation for possible violations of Title IX. The Department of Education began making available a list of schools facing open investigations in May.

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Sen. Kevin de Leon, the bill’s sponsor, said before the vote that the change will set a standard that encourages healthier relationships. “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 according to the Associated Press.

According to the National Institute of Justice, one in five women will deal with sexual assault while in college, but according to a survey conducted by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office, 2 in 5 schools have not conducted an investigation into an allegation of sexual assault in the past five years.