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California lawmakers pass “yes” means “yes” bill

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California legislators have taken the lead in the nationwide drive to curb sexual assault on campuses in the United States. On Thursday, August 28, 2014 lawmakers passed a law requiring universities to adopt “affirmative consent” language in their definitions of consensual sex.

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Instead of the heretofore ambiguous language of whether “no” really means “no,” the measure, passed unanimously by the California State Senate, has been called the “yes-means-yes” bill. It defines sexual consent between people as an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. In particular, the bill states that silence and a lack of resistance do not signify consent and that drugs and alcohol do not excuse unwanted sexual activity.

SB967 now goes to California Governor Jerry Brown, who has yet to indicate his stance on the issue. For the bill to become law, he must sign the bill by the end of September. If he does sign the bill, it will be the first time a U.S. state requires such language to be a central tenet of school sexual assault policies. Opponents, however, say the bill is politically over-reaching and could push universities into little charted legal waters.

Senator Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles said, “With this measure, we will lead the nation in bringing standards and protocols across the board so we can create an environment that’s healthy, that’s conducive for all students, not just for women, but for young men as well too, so young men can develop healthy patterns and boundaries as they age with the opposite sex.”

The bill would apply to all California post-secondary schools, public and private, that receive state money for student financial aid. The California State University and University of California systems are backing the legislation after adopting similar consent standards this year.

In January 2014, President Barack Obama vowed to make the issue a priority. He announced a task force that created a website providing tips for filing complaints, www.notalone.gov, and issued a report in May naming 55 colleges and universities across the country facing investigation for their responses to sexual abuse and violence. The University of California, Berkeley, Occidental College and the University of Southern California were the California schools included on the list.

In Virginia, the University of Virginia is on the list.

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