By Charlotte Zalens
California has become the first state in the US to have “yes means yes” consent legislation.
The legislation, which was passed at the end of September, applies to all post-secondary schools and is a result of a drive across America to tackle sexual assault on campuses. California State University and the University of California both already have similar legislation, as have most Ivy League universities in the US.
The legislation defines consent as “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity”, rather than just a lack of resistance. Under the bill, someone who is drunk, drugged, unconscious or asleep cannot grant consent.
Another element of the bill means that consent must be “ongoing” and that it can be “revoked any time”. Someone could withdraw their consent, meaning continuing to push sexual activity on the basis of “you said yes earlier” is considered assault.
Campaign groups say the bill will challenge the notion that victims of sexual assault need to have resisted assault in order to have valid complaints.
The bill states that “The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.”
The bill also requires universities to review their methods of dealing with complaints of sexual assault, and invest in training for staff. In addition the bill requires access to counselling, health services and other resources for women who have suffered sexual assault.
The legislation does not change the criminal implications for a person charged with assault, or the procedure of reporting assault to the police. It only changes how assault claims are handled by university intuitions internally.
The California bill echos a growing awareness of sexual assault on university campuses both in the US and in Britain that is a step forward.