Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered the State University of New York school system to review its current approach to the prevention, investigation and prosecution of sexual assault on all of its 64 campuses, asking that the schools include a policy of affirmative consent.
Cuomo announced the changes at a news conference in Manhattan, adding that they could lead to a new statewide law that would regulate sexual activity for all New York colleges and universities. The governor is requesting that the changes be put in place within the next 60 days.
Calling campus sexual assault a national epidemic, the governor said: "This is Harvard and Yale and Princeton, Albany and Buffalo and Oswego. It is not SUNY's problem by origination. I would suggest it should be SUNY's problem to solve and SUNY's place to lead."
Similar regulations are already in place in California, which state that both parties must express interest in engaging in any and all sexual acts. This consent must be given each time, previous consent is not considered sufficient. People who are asleep, mentally incapacitated, or unconscious cannot give consent.
"Consent is clear, knowing and voluntary," the SUNY rules will say. "Consent is active, not passive.
"Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent."
While consent does not need to be verbal, it does need to be mutual. "Consent to any one form of sexual activity cannot automatically imply consent to any other forms of sexual activity," the rules will say.
Also included will be a Sexual Assault Victim's Bill of Rights, a document handed out to all students on campus notifying them of their rights to go to the police or campus security with any complaints of sexual assault. The document will also give immunity to any students who need to report such an assault but have themselves taken part in any illegal activity, such as underage drinking. Also included will be information pertaining to a statewide program that will offer sexual assault training to all campus officials.
The move will be a major change for the SUNY system, which up until now has left it up to each separate campus to create their own sexual assault policies. While many of the campuses already subscribe to affirmative consent, they vary with regards to how specific they each are. While SUNY Adirondack, located in Queensbury, handles the issue with a single paragraph, SUNY Brockport offers 21 bullet points across multiple pages.
Novelist and former sex crimes prosecutor Linda Farstein will be on hand acting as special advisor while the changes are put into effect.
The SUNY school system enrolls about half a million students across their 64 campuses. Last year, 238 sexual assault cases were reported within the four-year schools, which enroll about 219,000 students.