‘Affirmative consent’ bill may change sexual assault response policies, protocols

Crystal Niebla, News Editor
June 18, 2014
Filed under News

In efforts to prevent sexual assault against students, colleges and universities across California may soon see new sexual assault response policies and protocols that tailor toward sexual assault victims.

Senate Bill 967, which passed in the California Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, would require campuses to implement a new affirmative consent standard for dealing with sexual assault reports.

According to the bill’s text, affirmative consent is defined as “an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.” The consent must also be ongoing throughout sexual encounters and can end at any time, according to the bill’s text. The bill also adds that a current or past dating relationship between the participants involved cannot be assumed to indicate consent.

“It’s a comprehensive approach,” said Allison Ruff, chief of staff for Assemblywomen Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), who co-authored the bill along with Sens. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) and Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

Ruff said that the difference between current sexual assault policies at campuses and SB 967 is that because the bill is more “victim-centered,” it would enforce affirmative consent, sexual assault education, outreach and education that would help prevent sexual assault.

The University of California, the California State Universities and community college districts would have to adopt these new policies if they want to continue receiving funding, according to a press release.

On the CSU level, spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp said that the bill aims to create a safer environment for students.

“This legislation seeks to enhance the safety of students on CSU campuses, and student safety is a critical system-wide priority,” Uhlenkamp said.

SB 967 was in some way a response to the U.S. Department of Education’s release of a list of 55 colleges and universities across the nation that were under investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual assault reports. Among the campuses were Butte-Glen Community College District, Occidental College, UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California, according to the list.

Lowenthal, who chairs the state Legislative Women’s Caucus, said that under this new policy, sexual assault reports would be less neglected.

“Obviously, the report would be taken — and it would be taken seriously,” Lowenthal said. “I think that right now, victims feel that they’re not always taken seriously.”

Freshman hospitality management major Elisa Okawa said she agreed. “What makes them think that they’ll change their mind?” she said. “You can’t really make somebody take somebody seriously.”

Junior English major Amir Dennis said, “I believe it can be practical — that the bill will be pushed …but, I feel that they may have some issues in trying to get it pushed because a lot of campuses do not want that kind of information known to the public.”

Lowenthal said that she believes it’s absurd that some critics of the bill may think it may sensationalize sexual assault on campus. “That trivializes sexual assault, and that is exactly what we’re trying to combat — that people don’t take it seriously.”

SB 967 will be heard by the California State Assembly Higher Education Committee on Tuesday, June 24. If passed, the governor has until the end of August to approve it, in which case the bill would be adopted starting Jan. 1, 2015.

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