On Sunday, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he signed the controversial “yes means yes” bill into law. This bill, which is geared toward curbing sexual assault at universities, requires “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Any postsecondary institution that receives funds from the California Legislature must comply with the measures in the bill; also included is mandatory training for faculty members on how to deal with allegations of sexual assault. Although I believe that something needs to be done on college campuses nationwide to not only decrease the number of sexual assaults, but prevent them from happening entirely, statewide legislation essentially governing how people have sex is not the way to accomplish this goal.
To get rid of any misconceptions, the “yes means yes” law does not necessarily require a verbal “yes” to signify consent for sexual activity; non-verbal consent, such as a head nod, is permissible. A key problem with the bill is its dishonesty. The bill regards sexual encounters as cold, passionless occurrences. Also, the bill severely restricts sexual activity. Under the law, anyone who is under the influence of any substance is not considered capable of giving consent. Certainly, someone who’s unconscious is not able to give consent, but quite frankly, there are people who enjoy having sex under the influence. And though far removed from their years in college, legislators should not expect consenting college students who are drunk to resort to dry-humping. Additionally, the law presupposes that all sexual activity in college is between strangers, and although promiscuity is not hard to find on a college campus, there are people who are in committed relationships. Having to ask for consent in such a case is just plain awkward.
Besides dictating pre-sex behavior, the law creates a narrow threshold of consent that could too easily allow someone to be labeled as a sexual predator. Preventive measures need to be put in place to stop sexual assault on college campuses, but the best way is simple education on the matter. An informed, rational person should have the tools necessary to determine if consent has been given, and if not, then that person deserves the full wrath of the law. Hopefully, the Texas Legislature takes up the issue of sexual assault on college campuses next year, but a bill such as California’s is not the way to handle this problem.
Davis is an associate editor.