What the new California “Yes means yes” bill means for college students

What the new California “Yes means yes” bill means for college students


By: Jonathan Kalin

As the leader of a sexual assault prevention group in college, I facilitated many discussions with my peers on the ways we think about sex, gender, and consent. One of our favorite discussion tools was called “The human barometer”. An activity where a facilitator would read a statement and all those who agreed would stand on one side of the room, all those who disagreed stood on the other side of the room and all those who were somewhere in the middle stood…somewhere in the middle!

The statement “Consent is a verbal yes” would always have some students go towards disagree. Responses ranged, “You could be in a long-term relationship and don’t need to take things step-by-step,” or “You can read verbal cues and decide from there,” or in worst cases “It’s the girl’s job to say no, I go until she says no.”

While the first two responses are true, we would remind students to always err on the side of communication. However, the last remark represented a fundamental flaw in the way we think about sexual consent.

It’s this idea of sexual consent that we need to shift. Sex should not about be about “not getting raped”, it should be about enjoying yourself fully with all parties involved. Imagine if you go to a causal party, you’re not constantly going around alerting everyone of what would be a breach of your consent to ensure your own safety – you simply expect safety.

As little as two years ago, I said that sexual consent is a verbal practice which involves a conversation made me out to be an outcast. Some people didn’t agree, but mostly, people didn’t want to talk about how they didn’t talk about consent (circular, right?). What this new California bill does is it allows students on campuses who are speaking out about sexual assault prevention to feel supported in saying, “An absence of a no, does not imply yes. And this is not my opinion it’s on the legal books.” Furthermore, students who feel less inclined to speak their opinions will feel more comfortable declaring they talk before sex because it’s the law.

But make no mistake, with a topic as suppressed as sexuality in the United States, the point in which campus culture reflects the new legislature is dependent on the work of incredible students leaders speaking out/breaking social norms and the amazing people supporting them in their journey.

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