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Muddling the language of campus sex offenses avoids real preventative effort

Instead of “no means no” when it comes to campus sex, California legislators are now moving towards laws that suggest “yes means yes.” 

Sexual assault is a serious and complex crime that cannot be condensed to “yes means yes” or any other phrase. The prevalence of college campus sexual attacks reflects an attitude that disregards the humanity and rights of the women who live there.

The increase of sexual assaults on campus is not going to be fixed by the suggestion that “yes means yes” should solve the issue of permission/consent. The complete picture of a sexual assault crime involves more than just the issue of consent. More often than not, the scenario also involves alcohol and/or other substances that affect an individual’s judgment along with a wide array of circumstances and specific factors.

Lawmakers seem hesitant to approach the actions and circumstances that lead up to an assault. They prefer to play with bills like SB 967, which requires colleges to have an “affirmative consent standard” instead, only addressing the assault itself.

SB 967 may be a step in the right direction, but it is best to remember that a solution to sexual assault cannot be established by setting a standard to separate assault from consensual sex. It cannot be sandwiched into three words. And frankly, yes may not mean yes. The circumstances of each case dictate the outcome as being a crime or not.

Legislation does not stop crime.

UC Berkeley, Princeton, Harvard, Occidental, USC and a full list of 55 colleges across the nation are under scrutiny for mishandling sexual assault cases. “Yes means yes” doesn’t even begin to deal with the roots of the problem. What lawmaker will actually address them?

Student activism drags lawmakers to the drafting table to deal with sexual assaults

Recently, students at the University of California, Berkeley, rose up in anger over their campus’ official handling of several sexual assaults in their midst. Student activists have chosen to file a federal complaint against the university. The institution is already facing a state investigation and heavy media criticism.

For the second time in a year, a large group of students has demanded that the U.S. Department of Education investigate UC Berkeley, suggesting that they violated federal anti-discrimination laws by failing to protect them against sexual harassment and assault. When the Department of Education took no discernible action, the students asked the Office for Civil Rights to intervene. By raising national awareness and controversy, the student groups have managed to push lawmakers to deal with these troubling situations expeditiously.

Activists argue that the campus disciplinary process does not adequately investigate or hold perpetrators responsible. Nor, they claim, does it keep victims informed about their cases. They offer specific incidents to back up their claims. The California clamor for drastic, grassroots changes in assault victim treatment is part of a national movement to force university campuses to deal with these issues in a fair, effective and expeditious manner. Such reform is long overdue; according to a White House task force, this type of violence currently has a direct impact on one in five college women.