Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) has announced the first uniform statewide policy to curb sexual assault on New York college campuses. Within 60 days, the State University of New York (SUNY) system has to implement the new policies on all 64 of its campuses, which enroll almost half a million students.
At a press conference in Manhattan last week, Gov. Cuomo said,
There has been an epidemic of sexual violence in this country that is truly disturbing and is inarguable. It is no longer past the point where we are talking about one or two incidents, an anecdotal reaction. It is an epidemic. And it is spreading. And it is pervasive. It’s plaguing our college campuses, it’s astonishing and it’s troubling.
The policies, detailed here, require that affirmative consent be reached between two partners prior to sexual activity. For the first time, all SUNY campuses will have the same definition of consent:
Consent is clear, knowing and voluntary. Consent is active, not passive. Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent.
The new definition goes on to stress that consent to “one form of sexual activity cannot automatically imply consent to any other forms,” that “previous relationships or prior consent cannot imply consent to future sexual acts” and, most importantly, that a person can’t consent if he or she has been incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.
The proposed changes include a Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights, a document to be widely disseminated on all campuses, that informs students of their rights following an assault—which include the right to report the crime to law enforcement, not just campus police.
This new approach echoes the new policies being implemented by the University of California (UC) school system, which launched a task force and presented new guidelines for preventing campus rape last month. Introducing system-wide standards for sexual assault investigations, the guidelines also include mandatory training of students and faculty on sexual violence prevention.
The figures on campus rape are startling: One in five women will be sexually assaulted during their time in college; 90 percent of those rapes will be perpetrated by acquaintances; and only 12 percent of college rape survivors will report the assault. Let’s hope California and New York, the nation’s first and third most populous states, will become national models for combating these unacceptable statistics.