September 21, 2014

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: In Support of California’s Proposed “Yes Means Yes” Law

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To the Editor:

RE: “THROWDOWN THURSDAY: Should California Redefine Campus Sexual Assault?,” Opinion, Sept.  18.

One in four women, by the time they graduate college, report surviving rape or attempted rape. They are forced to take leaves of absence to avoid interacting with their rapists on campus. Many of them leave school entirely. Few come forward to press charges, and when they do they are threatened by administrators and ostracized from their communities.

These students are being failed by their colleges and universities, which have an obligation, under federal law, to provide equal access to education. Schools’ inaction, or complete mishandling, of sexual assault complaints prevent survivors of such violence from taking advantage of the educational resources that should be at their disposal. This is an issue of crimes being perpetuated largely against women, of institutions that are unequipped or uninterested in protecting the survivors of sexual violence, but it is also an issue of equal educational opportunity, which why California has the right to legislate consent on its college campuses.

This egregious reality and the considerable extent of sexual assaults on college campuses is not mentioned even once in Julius Kairey’s Sept. 18 column “Should California Redefine Campus Sexual Assault?” The piece, which trivializes the issue of sexual assaults on college campuses and misstates the facts about California’s “Yes means yes” law, reveals the very biases underwriting it in its utter failure to address what consent even is. Kairey’s says legislation isn’t necessary because “everyone should know” what consent is. And yet, colleges don’t educate their students about consent, and they don’t punish them for rapes: Even when a student is found guilty of the crime, the most likely punishment is mandatory therapy or treatment for alcohol issues. “No means no” is such a clear standard, Kairey argues, that there is no need for a new one. But he himself seems hardly clear on what “no means no” actually means.

“No means no” places the burden is on the less assertive partner to dissent, even in the face of pressure. By contrast, “Yes means yes” requires the instigator of further sexual activity to secure consent. You don’t have to be asked to say no. But you do have to be asked to say yes. Though men are sexually assaulted too, it is a crime by and large committed on women. And for too long, legislators and administrators have been content to place the burden on women to prove that they are victims. Women who are being raped are saying “no” to a question that is never asked of them, a choice they were never given.

Asking might be awkward. But asking is always better than violating another person’s body and causing them physical, emotional and psychological harms.

Kairey implies that the new standard makes it easier to be falsely accused of rape, asking, “Think about it: If someone alleged that he or she did not give affirmative consent to a sexual encounter with you, would you be able to disprove the allegation?” Yet accusing someone of sexual assault is a procedure that takes a good deal of energy and emotional pain. To say that a woman will cry rape is a misogynistic tactic that delegitimizes victims’ experiences and the traumas they faced.

Kairey says, “Most of us should be able to distinguish between a forcible sexual encounter and consensual sex that occurs without affirmative consent. Shouldn’t our law be able to do the same?” How can anyone be certain that sex is consensual without asking? Most students can’t. This law sets a more rigorous standard of consent by requiring affirmation.

We don’t disagree that this standard should be applicable outside of college campuses, but campus sexual assault is the most pressing problem at hand. It is revealing that the day after Kairey’s column was published, the White House came out with an initiative called “It’s On Us,” aimed at ending sexual assaults on college campuses. California’s new law and the White House initiative show that campus sexual assaults are taking priority at a policymaking level, which is refreshing to see. The system has been weighed against victims for years. Changing that must be our top priority, both on this campus and across the country.

Emma Court ’15, President of the Every1 Campaign

Shuangyi Hou ’16, former President of the Every1 Campaign

Jevan Hutson ’16, Creative Director of the Every1 Campaign

Leah Salgado ’13, former President of the Every1 Campaign

Gavin Zhang ’15, Associate Creative Director of the Every1 Campaign

Kristen Green ’17, the Every1 Campaign

Jen Mandelblatt ’17, the Every1 Campaign

Katy Habr ’18, the Every1 Campaign