California’s Brown Signs ‘Yes Means Yes’ Legislation for Campus Sex Consent

California is the first state to take a “yes means yes” approach to defining consensual sexual activity.

The law, which calls for “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” that is “ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time,” was signed by Governor Jerry Brown last week, requiring California colleges and universities that receive state funding for financial aid to adopt the rule and ensure students know the difference between sexual consent and assault.

“This is amazing,” said Savannah Badalich, a student at UCLA, where classes begin this week, and the founder of the group 7000 in Solidarity. “It’s going to educate an entire new generation of students on what consent is and what consent is not… that the absence of a no is not a yes.”

Under SB967, silence or lack of resistance does not equal consent.  A person who is drugged, drunk, or unconscious cannot offer consent, however, consent can be nonverbal, as in a headshake or nod, or simply moving closer to the other person.

Critics say the law is too vague surrounding the definition of sexual assault, but victims and advocates of sexual assault are applauding the effort and pushing the measure to be adopted in other states.

State Sen. Kevin de León, who co-wrote the bill, said, “Every student deserves a learning environment that is safe and healthy.” California, he said, has “shifted the conversation regarding sexual assault to one of prevention, justice, and healing.”

The new law comes as federal scrutiny over the way colleges are handling sexual assault cases escalates, as well as an increase in victims coming forward and filing lawsuits against schools they attended.

The law requires faculty to be trained concerning “victim-centered policies” that offer support to the victim through counseling and other services while respecting their privacy.

Gina Lauterio, program director for Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, a group of lawyers and others who opposed the legislation, said the law is “extremely confusing” and that it was “unclear” how it might be interpreted. “Being labeled a rapist is a huge deal and something that can go on your permanent record, affecting your education and employment for the rest of your life,” Ms. Lauterio said. “That’s pretty scary.”

UC President Janet Napolitano announced that the University of California school system will have a voluntary, independent advocate to offer support to victims of sexual assault on each campus.

Brown signed two bills offering protection to children online at the same time as SB967.  One makes it illegal for companies to using information obtained on Internet education websites concerning minor students.  The second limits the information school districts can obtain about students through social media.

“This is a win for kids, teachers and California’s booming ed-tech industry,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in a statement.