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.