College Freshmen Get Lesson in Definition of Sexual Consent

As the freshman class of the University of California-Berkeley entered orientation this week, they got a little surprise: a refresh on the definition of sexual consent.

A slide projected onstage defined consent through three "pillars": "Knowing exactly what and how much I'm agreeing to; expressing my intent to participate; deciding freely and voluntarily to participate."

The freshmen were told that instead of "no means no", that they should look for a "yes", which could come in the form of a head nod, a smile, or a verbal acknowledgement.

Staff reporter for the teen publication Sex Etc, Yoon-Hendricks looked at it in a positive light.

"I loved hearing that, because I'd never really heard people describe consent in that manner before," she said. "Instead of saying ‘no means no,' ‘yes means yes' looks at sex as a positive thing."

Referred to as confirmative consent, California could become the first state to make it law. Senate Bill 967 would require schools to uphold the standard during disciplinary hearings.

"There's varying language, but the language gets to the core of people having to communicate their affirmation to participate in sexual behavior," said Denice Labertew of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "It requires a fundamental shift in how we think about sexual assault. It's requiring us to say women and men should be mutually agreeing and actively participating in sexual behavior."

Victim's rights groups, violence prevention groups, and the University of California all support the bill. However, those who oppose do so out of fear that it could end up defining an enormous amount of sexual activity as "assault."

Schools have tried this approach in the past with little success. In 1993 Ohio's Antioch College revised its handbook to read: "Consent means verbally asking and verbally giving or denying consent for all levels of sexual behavior."

Saturday Night Live mocked the school in a skit featuring Phil Hartman as host of the show "Is It Date Rape?"

"Despite the fact we were ridiculed, we were extremely proud of this policy. We felt like it was forward-thinking and in line with our values about social justice, equality and health."

However, survivors, feminists and prevention specialists have been pushing for a change in school code to include affirmative consent. Now advocacy groups and the federal government are joining the push. Schools across the country are rewriting their sexual assault policies to comply with the 2013 Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act.

The White House created the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault which hopes to help schools update policies and protocol for dealing with sexual assault matters.

"There's this underlying assumption, unlike in any other crime, that survivors are lying or overexaggerating," Berkeley senior Sofie Karasek said. "Having an affirmative consent standard changes the dynamic because we're not automatically assuming that if someone didn't say no, it means yes."

09 11, 2014
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