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“Yes Means Yes”: The New Mantra for Investigating Sexual Assault

BY KRISTY DAVIS

Last fall, the state of California implemented a historic law that changed the handling of sexual assault. The legislation that was passed defined consent as “an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision” [1], making the presence of consent much more than someone just not saying “No.”

In the past year, over 85 colleges have been put under investigation for sexual assault cases. Across the country, voiced concerns for how universities have been handling the sexual assault cases on their campuses have been incessant – and rightfully so. Any school that receives federal funding is required, by law (Title IX), to eliminate any sexual violence, assault or harassment on the school’s campus regardless of whether the police get involved or not.

However, many university cases seemingly ended in the perpetrator of each case walking away with just a slap on the wrist rather than expulsion, suspension or any form of legal prosecution. This uproar of publicized sexual assault cases has begun a revolution for changing the way consent, or the agreement or permission to engage in sexual acts with another individual, is defined and upheld.

The importance of the “Yes Means Yes” campaign is found in the ambiguity that comes with the refrain “No means no.” In a situation in which one party is scared, silent, incapacitated, or feels that they cannot say “No,” for any reason, the other party is forbidden from engaging in sexual actions with the former party due to the absence of an explicit, affirmative: the unambiguous, verbally given “Yes.” This presence of a yes clears up any confusion on the part of the perpetrator if they were unsure if their sexual conduct was welcome, because the defense of “He/she didn’t say no,” is negated under this legislation.

“Yes Means Yes” has been implemented across all California college campuses that receive federal funding, and as of January, New York has been looking to pass similar legislation regarding the definition of consent. Governor Andrew Cuomo says that his legislation aims to define consent as “a clear, unambiguous and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity” [2].

With the constantly growing list of colleges under investigation for improper handling of sexual assault cases, a more explicit, forward bill such as “Yes Means Yes” shows promise to start reducing the epidemic of sexual violence, especially at the university level. This legislation puts the responsibility of consent on both partners and aims to eliminate any issues of vagueness or lack of clarity on consent in any sexual situation. Hopefully, with the implementation of this new law, college campuses will see fewer after-the-fact accusations and complaints because “Yes Means Yes” opens the door to having conversation about sexual wants and needs before it is too late.


[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/usanow/2014/08/28/california-bill-yes-means-yes-sex-assault/14765665/

[2] “a clear, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity”

Featured Image from: California State University “University Times”: http://www.csulauniversitytimes.com/news/view.php/860774/What-Does-SB-967-Really-Mean-to-Students

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