Calif. 'Yes Means Yes' Sexual Assault Bill Awaits Gov.'s Signature

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 30, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

California lawmakers approved a groundbreaking "Yes Means Yes" bill on Thursday, in an attempt to fight the growing problem of sexual assault on college campuses.

The bill must be signed by Governor Jerry Brown before it becomes law, but if/when it becomes effective, all California colleges and universities will have to change their standards. The Los Angeles Times reports that the bill would require "affirmative consent" between college students hoping to have sex -- removing silence or lack of resistance as signs of consent.

SB 967 Requires a Sober 'Yes' for Sex

The "Yes Means Yes" bill, officially known as California SB 967, seeks to create more institutional protections for college students who may be sexually assaulted by their peers. Authored by state senators Kevin de Leon and Hannah-Beth Jackson, SB 967 sets the standard for consent to sex a bit higher than some colleges have in the past. And that standard is "affirmative consent."

The consent of affirmative consent is best understood by the bill's slogan: "yes means yes." The old "no means no" doesn't create a very high burden on would be sexual assaulters to ascertain whether their partners' silence, intoxicated state, or lack of resistance is really tantamount to a "yes." And with the very serious charge of rape being a possibility for sex without consent, this is not a situation to trifle with. With only a "yes" (or each partner affirmatively consenting), can many of their sexual assault fears be silenced.

The "affirmative consent" standard also would not allow accused rapists to claim that an intoxicated victim consented or that the accused was too intoxicated to confirm consent. For college students, this may mean a sobering new reality about drunken sex.

Critics Worry About Consequences

Not everyone is a fan of "Yes Means Yes." Writing for TIME, Cathy Young notes that this law will create "a disturbing precedent for government regulation of consensual sex" and place many young students at the mercy of "vague and capricious rules." While the California criminal law regarding sexual assault will not be altered by SB 967, disciplinary action from a rape accusation may lead to suspension or even expulsion.

Students can still appeal these disciplinary actions, but the burden in school rape cases would certainly be shifted to the accused.

According to USA Today, Gov. Brown has until the end of September to sign or veto the "Yes Means Yes" bill.

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