California Takes on Campus Rape — And So Does Ms.

If a bill proposed in the California legislature passes and is signed into law, it won’t be enough for a campus rape perpetrator to defend himself by claiming, “She didn’t say no!” Rather, he’ll have to prove that she said “Yes!”

Co-authored by state Sen. Kevin de León, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), the bill—SB 967—would establish “affirmative consent” as the standard for determining if sexual activity is wanted or forced. An accused perpetrator cannot use self-intoxication or recklessness as a defense, and the person assaulted cannot have give consent if asleep, unconscious, incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol or unable to communicate because of a physical or mental condition.

Among other provisions in the bill, it would also require colleges and universities to implement prevention strategies, including women’s empowerment, awareness campaigns, primary prevention, bystander intervention and risk reduction.

California Takes on Campus Rape— And So Does Ms.
(SchuminWeb / Flickr)

“It’s heartening to see that California will be a national leader on this issue,” says Caroline Heldman, associate professor of politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles (an alma mater of Pres. Barack Obama). “The affirmative consent requirement could shift campus rape culture. Instead of placing the onus on one party to say ‘no,’ sex will be approached as something that both parties must enthusiastically agree to.”

Heldman, along with her Oxy colleague Danielle Dirks,  is actively involved in a nationwide movement by students and faculty to prevent campus rape and ensure better support from campus administrators. They also have written the cover story of the new issue of Ms. magazine, which offers a comprehensive overview of the problem and the growing activism around it.

As the cover headline reminds us, 1 in 5 college women will be sexually assaulted during their campus years. But fewer than half report the crime, many because they don’t believe they’ll receive justice from institutional authorities. Adds Heldman,

“The survivor-centered approach in this bill is vital to actually addressing the epidemic of campus assault/rape. The new anti-rape movement on campus is causing a sea change in public awareness, White House priorities and now policy in the state of California. College stonewalling that we’ve witnessed for decades on this issue will no longer be possible with so many powerful government entities focused on enacting meaningful change”.

And here’s what California legislators Jackson, Lowenthal and another primary sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Kevin de León, have to say about it:

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About

Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. She is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro and coeditor (with Audrey Bilger) of Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage.