With about a month of this legislative session remaining, the California State Senate unanimously passed a bill last week that would require the state’s colleges and universities to adopt an unambiguous affirmative consent standard.
Senate Bill 967, introduced by Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, states that affirmative consent in sexual activity is an “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement” between the parties involved and that intoxicated agreement does not count as consent.
“There is a culture of rape on campuses,” Jackson said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “Our colleges for decades have trivialized it, and we need to do something to change that culture.”
The bill urges campuses to adopt language explaining affirmative consent and to provide “victim-centered” policies and access to counseling, legal support and other services for survivors of sexual assault.
According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the UC sexual harassment and violence policy, which applies to all UC campuses, already incorporates the changes outlined in the bill.
UC Berkeley and UCLA are among more than 75 schools under federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for allegedly violating Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
This summer, the state auditor’s office released a report showing that not all UC Berkeley staff are equipped to handle reports of sexual assault. Prior to the audit’s release, UC President Janet Napolitano formed a systemwide task force to address issues of campus sexual assault.
UC Berkeley junior Meghan Warner sits on a working group that advises the task force and was among 31 former and current students who filed federal complaints against UC Berkeley in February. She did not see the bill as controversial, saying that it would not drastically change UC policies because provisions advocated in the bill are already in effect.
“The idea is that we’re all checking in to make sure everyone’s comfortable and not making assumptions,” Warner said about affirmative consent. “Honest communication is crucial.”
The UC policy on affirmative consent defines it as an “affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.” The policy states conditions in which individuals cannot consent, such as when they are incapacitated, unconscious or coming in and out of consciousness.
“Affirmative consent is just one of the many areas that have to do with changing the culture on college campuses,” said UC spokesperson Dianne Klein. “We felt it best for everybody if things were made as clear and explicit as possible, not only for survivors and victims but for people in general.”
ASUC Attorney General Kevin Sabo, a strong supporter of the bill, noted there were concerns from different groups — including some leaders in the CSU student government and members of the UC Berkeley Greek community — that he said oppose the bill.
“There is a lot of pushback from different groups,” Sabo said, adding that there are some people who feel the bill goes a little too far in addressing sexual assault.
If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill — a decision he will have to make by Sept. 30 — California will be the first state to require such an affirmative consent standard for campus sexual-assault policies.