California bill may set new standard for colleges across the country

By Lana Pochiro, For The Miami Student

One in five women has been sexually assaulted while in college, according to a 2014 study conducted by The White House Council on Women and Girls. Of campus assailants who admitted to committing rape or attempted rape, 63 percent said they committed an average of six rapes each.

According to another study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2009, of all college women who are raped, only 25 percent describe the act as rape.

These statistics highlight the rape culture that persists on college campuses.

Rape culture describes a society that ignores, trivializes or accepts rape and sexual assault, excuses the perpetrators of sexual crimes and blames survivors for the attacks.

In May, the U.S. Department of education named 55 colleges that are under federal investigations for violations of Title IX, a law that requires gender equity in all federally-funded education programs. Among these colleges is Columbia University, whose case has quickly gained publicity due to one victim taking a stand and refusing to be silenced.

Emma Sulkowicz, along with 23 other students, filed a complaint against Columbia University this year for failing to properly address her sexual assault case. After seeking justice from the university and local police and finding none, Sulkowicz has begun a performance art piece. She has vowed to carry a dorm room mattress, like that on which she was raped, around campus until her rapist is no longer present at Columbia.

Emma is not alone in demanding change. On Aug. 28, California unanimously passed the SB-967 bill, known commonly as “yes means yes,” which requires unambiguous affirmative consent by each participant in all sexual activity. The bill sets a new standard for universities, whose current sexual assault policies generally focus on defining what constitutes not giving consent and places the responsibility on the victim

The bill would require all universities in California that receive state funding to update their sexual assault policies to include that only affirmative consent, not silence nor lack of resistance, truly qualifies as consent.

Many hope that the progress and awareness generated in California will spread to colleges across the United States and hit back home in Oxford, Ohio. Social activism chair of Miami University organization “The F-word: Feminists Working for Real Democracy,” junior Anna Lucia Feldmann, expressed her excitement about the bill.

“Implementing affirmative consent here would be amazing,” Feldmann said. “I know some campuses have a Violence Against Women Act in their student handbooks, so that would be really cool.”

Feldmann spoke about the bill’s potential to combat rape culture and emphasize the importance of educating the public on what constitutes sexual assault.

“People have this idea that rape or sexual assault is only rape or sexual assault when someone is kicking or screaming, but a lot of times the person is not able to say no or they’ve been coerced or just in general they don’t [want to have sex] and that’s still a rape; it’s still a sexual assault,” Feldmann said. “In the ‘no means no’ context, there’s still room for doubt and room to put blame upon the victim.”

Rebecca Getson, Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Student Sexual Assault at Miami’s Student Health Services, expressed similar hopes that ‘yes means yes’ will encourage “a healthy look at defining what consent is and not just defining what sexual assault is.”

“I think it will be a curious thing to watch and look at to see what will happen,” Getson said. “I think it’s going to raise a lot
of awareness.”

In light of the recent attention regarding rape and sexual assault on college campuses, many universities have begun re-evaluating their policies regarding the defining, reporting and handling of these cases.

According to Getson and in accordance with the Clery Act, Miami University reviews and updates their policies yearly and publishes the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, which includes information regarding rapes and sexual assaults. However, the latest report currently available on Miami University’s webpage dates back to 2012.

Feldmann vocalized a critique of Miami’s handling of sexual assault expressing concern that resources and information are difficult to locate and often outdated or problematic.

“Not a lot of people know what resources there are,” Feldmann said. “There’s a whole segment of the population that doesn’t know what consent is or how to exercise their rights after something has gone wrong.”

Several prevention resources warn students to not walk alone and in a recent crime alert email, the university advised, “Trust your instincts; if you feel uncomfortable with friends or strangers, remove yourself from the situation.”

The wording of such alert emails has changed since the previous year.

“We try to get feedback from students, faculty, staff and administrators about what has worked [and] what hasn’t worked while still being in compliance with Title IX and clearing the other federal and state regulations,” Getson stated.

Feldmann believes the ‘yes means yes’ bill will help popularize the idea of affirmative consent and work to combat rape culture.

“There’s a big segment of people that are hostile to the information. I’ve heard [people say] things like getting affirmative consent is just unsexy.”

On the contrary, California legislators and Feldmann agree that only an explicit “yes” should mean yes. Feldmann concluded, smiling, “Consent is good; Consent is good, necessary and sexy.”