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California Lawmakers Pass 'Affirmative Consent' Sexual Assault Bill

California state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) urges lawmakers to approve his measure aimed at curbing sexual assault on campuses on Thursday in Sacramento.
Rich Pedroncelli
California state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) urges lawmakers to approve his measure aimed at curbing sexual assault on campuses on Thursday in Sacramento.

California is one step closer to becoming the first state to require colleges and universities "to adopt a standard of unambiguous consent among students engaging in sexual activity," The Los Angeles Times reports.

The California Senate gave the bill unanimous approval on Thursday, and it is now headed to the governor's office.

The Times adds:

"Along with a comprehensive prevention program, colleges would be required to help victims of sexual assault seek medical care, counseling, legal assistance and other services.

"Students engaging in sexual activity would first need 'affirmative consent' from both parties — a clear threshold that specifically could not include a person's silence, a lack of resistance or consent given while intoxicated."

As Reuters reports, the bill comes amid increasing national pressure for universities and colleges to curb sexual assault on campus.

As we've reported, the Department of Education said in May that 55 colleges and universities nationwide were under investigation over their handling of sexual abuse claims.

Reuters adds:

"The White House has declared sex crimes to be 'epidemic' on U.S. college campuses, with one in five students falling victim to sex assault during their college years.

"Universities in California and beyond have already taken steps, including seeking to delineate whether consent has been given beyond 'no means no.'

"Harvard University said last month it had created an office to investigate all claims of sexual harassment or sex assault, and that it would lower its evidentiary standard of proof in weighing the cases."

The California bill has been dubbed "yes means yes," which means the burden is on both people to seek consent, not for one party to expect a no. The bill also calls for affirmative consent to be ongoing throughout the sexual activity.

Some critics have said the bill goes too far or that it's confusing. The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports:

"A pair of friends at Cal State Long Beach said the bill seemed well-intentioned, but questioned how practical it is when it comes to ensuring consent throughout sex with their partners.

" 'I feel like their hearts are in the right place, but the implementation is a little too excessive,' said Henry Mu, a 24-year-old biology major. 'Are there guidelines? Are we supposed to check every five minutes?' "

Insider Higher Ed adds:

"[The bill] is a good thing, say victims' rights advocates. Female college students who make allegations are too often asked by college officials to account for their own actions, including what they were wearing and whether they tried hard enough to stop a sexual encounter.

"Others question whether the policy is an unworkable attempt at government overreach.

"How does a person prove they receive consent 'shy of having it videotaped,' said Joe Cohn, the legislative policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is an international correspondent for NPR. He was named NPR's Mexico City correspondent in 2022. Before that, he was based in Cape Town, South Africa.
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