Yes means yes, or no? Affirmative consent put into question
By Elizabeth Brantley
Knowing the difference between right and wrong is something that humanity should take pride in understanding. Most of us seem to know a red light means stop, stealing is wrong and punching a beehive is a one-way ticket to a bad time. Despite this, one concept seems to continue to elude humanity’s grasp: consent.
For whatever reason, people still have issues in recognizing whether or not they’ve been given consent to engage in sexual activities with another person. This dilemma has plagued humanity for centuries, but the state of California has given us an answer.
Back in 2014, a piece of legislation was passed which enforces something called “affirmative consent” on college campuses. Under this new law, consent is specifically defined as being an “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” that “can be revoked at any time.” It reads easily and clearly, letting both students and law enforcement know what is and isn’t legal sexual conduct. If all participants voluntarily agree to sex the whole time through and are capable of making such decisions, then everything’s on the up and up.
Some, however, have found affirmative consent to be an overwhelmingly negative law. It has beenargued that the bill was ambiguously worded and has unrealistic expectations. Robert Carle at the Federalist writes that this law generalizes to the extreme, “turning nearly everyone who has ever dated into a sexual offender.” The claim is that affirmative consent takes everyday romantic gestures and turns them into something illegal unless the other party gives verbal consent before every single interaction. This can not only ruin the mood of sexual encounters, some argue, but also put innocent lovers at risk of being unfairly put on trial.
Such arguments fail to bear a few key points in mind. First, being safe is always more important than feeling stupid so “ruining the mood” is hardly a convincing argument. Secondly, sexual assault is already a fairly commonplace and severely traumatizing event on college campuses and needs to be recognized as such.
In a study released by the Association of American Universities last September, an average of 23 percent of undergraduate women reported having been victims of sexual assault or misconduct along with 5 percent of undergraduate men. This means that in a class of 20, four women and one man will have, on average, been victims of sexual assault. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 68 percent of all sexual assaults are never reported to law enforcement.
So many victims already feel alone and silenced in a world which asks endless questions about what is a horrible and often confusing event. Under affirmative consent, every victim can be empowered to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were wronged and that they are owed a chance at justice under the law. This way, it is no longer be a question of, “What was she wearing?” or “Was he leading them on?”
All that matters is whether or not everyone said “yes.” While this singular law will definitely not end the trouble of sexual assault on American college campuses, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
As of now, only three universities in Virginia have affirmative consent policies: UVA, VCU, and the University of Virginia College at Wise. Almost all the rest, including UMW, are listed by the Affirmative Consent Project as having strong consent policies with no state mandate requiring it.
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