Does ‘yes’ mean yes?

Campaigns to prevent sexual assault on college campuses tell students that “no means no.” Now universities are under pressure to go beyond that. What does silence mean? Does yes still mean yes?

California legislators are considering requiring colleges to adopt “affirmative consent” policies to define when sex is consensual.

Under the bill, sex could be considered assault unless there is “an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision” by each party to engage in sexual activity. If one person is drunk, drugged or otherwise unconscious, sex is not consensual. (This has been the law for a long time.)

Lawmakers say consent can be nonverbal, and universities with similar policies have outlined examples as maybe a nod of the head or moving in closer to the person.

It’s already proving difficult to define when a sex partner was too drunk to consent. Arguing about whether she nodded her head in a consensual way . . . Yeah, that’ll work.

The statistic that one in five college women has been sexually assaulted is based on an online questionnaire at two universities. Sexual assault was defined broadly. Students were told to include “events that you think (but are not certain) happened.

How a sexual assault question is worded changes the results dramatically, notes the National Institute or Justice.

One survey found a completed rape rate of 1.7 percent, while the other study found a 0.16 percent rate. Similarly, one study found an attempted rape rate of 1.1 percent, while the other study found a rate of 0.18 percent. Thus, the percentage of the sample that reported experiencing a completed rape in one study was 11 times the percentage in the other study. Researchers believe the disparity arises from the way the survey questions are worded.

I know this is horribly unfashionable, but I think colleges would do more to prevent sexual assault and sexual misbehavior by running campaigns to persuade students to avoid getting drunk. That could include warnings that sex with someone who’s drunk can be interpreted as rape — and don’t count on the nod defense to get you off. Students should be urged to report rape and attempted rape to the police immediately.

About Joanne


  1. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    If you’re drunk, it’s sexual assault. Report it.

    Get that rapist-woman expelled today! Every man deserves to be safe.

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    ” If one person is drunk, drugged or otherwise unconscious, sex is not consensual.”
    In theory, with *both* parties drunk (I realize that this is unlikely in a college environment, but bear with me …), couldn’t they both be charged? And … *shouldn’t* they both be charged since the sex is non-consensual?

    In practice, of course, the male will be charged …

  3. wahoofive says:

    So if legislators want a legal definition of consent, why don’t they figure one out and pass it into law? Requiring colleges to come up with their own is not just passing the buck, it guarantees there will be different standards at different colleges (not to mention a gigantic duplication of effort). What’s the point of that?

  4. Colleges should not be handling rape/assault cases at all; those are crimes and should be handled by the real police department and judicial system.

  5. Decades ago colleges started handling sexual assaults using their own Kampus Kops as a way to avoid reporting and liability. That was wrong. ALL allegations of criminal activity should be referred to the real police and treated exactly the same as allegations off campus would be treated: due process, rules of evidence, etc.

    I figure the chances of this happening, given the incentives the colleges have to sweep unpleasantness under the rug, is about 25%.

  6. In recent years, I have been thinking that we should phase in drinking, that kids should be allowed to drink, at first, only when they are being supervised by a responsible adult. With, of course, sharp limits on amounts. Say, 16-21, or some range like that,
    and at most two drinks.

    (I think that the laws in some states allow that already, if the parents are the supervisors.)

    As I recall, French parents often phase in drinking in another way, by watering drinks down when the kids are young.