Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed legislation requiring colleges in the state to adopt sexual assault policies that shifted the burden of proof in campus sexual assault cases from those accusing to the accused.Consent is now "an affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity." The consent has to be "ongoing" throughout any sexual encounter.“The swiftly evolving conversation about defining sexual assault signaled to us that we needed to reframe our name as something more positive,” said Allison Korman, the group’s executive director.“And it’s even possible that ‘No means no’ will be an outdated or irrelevant concept in 10 years.More than 800 colleges now use "affirmative consent" standard in sexual assault policies, but some worry that the swiftly changing definition could lead to confusion in the dorm room and complications in student conduct hearings.When the sexual assault prevention group Culture of Respect attended the Dartmouth Summit on Sexual Assault in July to promote its forthcoming website, the group went by a different name."Traditionally we've focused on a lack of consent as someone fighting off an attacker," Dunn said. We only talked about what consent was not, which is not a very helpful paradigm. But even looking at this from the perspective of someone being accused, the traditional definition is telling them that it's O. to do this until the victim says 'no.' That's not really a helpful definition for them either because it can really be too late at that point. Consent is consent." "No means no" hasn't always had such a negative connotation.The Canadian Federation of Students popularized the phrase as part of a well-received, and still ongoing, sexual assault awareness campaign it launched in 1992.
California is the first state to make such a definition of consent law, but other states may soon follow suit.
Because colleges use a lesser burden of proof than criminal courts -- preponderance of evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt -- it makes sense to have a different definition of consent on campus, Dunn said, though she would ultimately like to see states adopt similar definitions at the criminal level as well.
In order to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, colleges must investigate complaints of sexual assault, even if students decline to go to the police.
Students may not have even heard of the phrase by then.” That’s because at a growing number of colleges, “No means no” is out, and “Yes means yes” is in.
And it's more than just revising an old slogan -- from coast to coast, colleges are rethinking how they define consent on their campuses.