Ayrton Finden, 19, Physics & Anthropology poses with Hana Andersen, 19, Nursing. Two complete strangers holding hands. (Photograph/ Zachary Epstein)
On Sunday, Sept. 28, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into action Senate Bill 967, also known as the “Yes Means Yes” bill, making California the first state in the U.S. to officially define affirmative sexual consent.
This bill, which applies to all institutions of higher learning that accept state funds, shifts focus away from standard “No Means No” guidelines against sexual abuse. Previously, sexual assault was largely defined by whether or not a victim verbally rejected a sexual advance.
“Yes Means Yes” instead states that, unless individuals ask for consent and receive verbal, written, or even nonverbal affirmation in return, a sexual act between students could be considered an assault.
According to the language of the bill, lack of resistance and silence are not indicators of consent, and any person drunk, drugged, unconscious, asleep, or incapacitated cannot give consent. Furthermore, affirmation must be ongoing and can be revoked at any time.
The fact that individuals are engaged in a relationship or have had sexual relations before does not automatically imply that consent has been given.
SB 967 has instituted new policies among board, staff and faculty members on college campuses throughout California.
The bill stipulates that students must have access to counseling, health care services and other resources; it also stipulates faculty training for interaction with assault victims.
People don’t generally know where to go to find information about assault, or how to report it when it happens, said Linda Fontanilla, vice president of student services at Irvine Valley College. Most students would not recognize first responders or discipline officers who can make an official report, like Saddleback College’s Vice President of Student Services, Dr. Juan Avalos, or even Fontanilla herself. Students can also contact campus police.
“Just last week, Dr. Juan Avalos and I went to a meeting at Orange Coast College held for all vice presidents of student services,” Fontanilla said. “We had a region-wide discussion about how [the bill] is going to affect our campuses, and we recognize that we need to update our board policies and our administrative regulations right away to incorporate the language of the bill.”
The SOCCCD board policy committee is set to review Board Policy 5404 and Administrative Regulation 5404 to ensure that they are updated to align with the new state legislation, which will become law on Jan. 1, 2015, said Tere Fluegeman, director of public affairs and government relations for SOCCCD.
“The bill is meant to align with similar federal legislation,” Fluegeman said.
Many people find language in the California bill potentially controversial.
On college campuses, adjudication panels review sexual assault allegations to determine if consent was given. Because of SB 967, the testimony of an alleged victim doesn’t have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused is guilty. Proof of guilt just has to outweigh proof of innocence by more than 50 percent. Preponderance of evidence, a facet of SB 967, also gives benefit of the doubt to alleged victims, but not alleged assailants.
“I believe that this bill holds those engaging in sexual activity to a higher standard,” said Keefe Carillo, IVC student and student trustee on the SOCCCD Board of Trustees. Carillo has a unique perspective as a part of both the administrative and student bodies. “It is clear that the rules indicate zero tolerance of any sexual assault on any of our campuses here in the South Orange County area, as well as any other educational institutions.”
Some feel that this policy unfairly assumes the accused are “guilty until proven innocent,” and makes it too hard for those falsely accused to defend themselves.
Others, like OUR TIME Media Company writer Lindsay Haskell, have said that “by giving zero leeway to potential sex offenders, this law lends a voice to sexual assault victims who have kept silent due to fear that their experiences would not ‘qualify’ as rape.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five undergraduate women have experienced sexual violence or attempted sexual violence while in college. Because of underreporting, this number is likely even higher. Yet, less than five percent of raped female college students report the assault to law enforcement, according to the Department of Justice.
Whether people believe this bill to be intrusive, unfair, unrealistic, or, conversely, a long-awaited solution, it does make people more aware of the reality of sexual assault and forces students to seriously consider consequences.
“It’s important for our college and for our district to make sure we educate everyone about sexual abuse and what the law says to our students,” Fontanilla said. “We are going to be doing that through the associated student bodies and leadership students; we are going to go out into the classrooms and get permission from faculty to make presentations; we are going to have training so that our faculty will understand more about the law and they also will understand what is required of them should a student report stalking, dating violence, domestic violence or some sort of sexual assault.”
“It will make people more aware, vigilant, and cautious of their actions and the actions of others,” Carillo said.
Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, campuses must form an annual security report and distribute it to all students and staff. Saddleback released the most recent report this September. Saddleback College had no officially reported sexual assaults the past two years.
“Everyone needs to care about sexual assault because it’s something that can happen to anyone at any time,” Fontanilla said. “A year ago at IVC we did have a student who reported a sexual assault crime. Although we in SOCCCD have a very low crime rate, we are not immune.”
“I would hate for us to think it happens out there and it doesn’t happen here,” she said. “We all need to be aware. We all need to be ready to protect ourselves. We all need to know the law, and we need to be prepared.”