A new California bill are taking a serious approach against sexual assault and rape on college campuses with SB967, also known as the “Yes Means Yes” law. Colleges in the state will need to adopt new procedures and training regarding sexual assault and rape cases to determine whether “affirmative consent was given by both parties to sexual activity.” Hopefully, this will cut down on the instances of victim shaming during campus investigation proceedings, and it might help officials identify attacks accurately. The bill states that a person cannot provide affirmative consent if they are sleeping, incapacitated due to intoxication or unconscious.
Some colleges opt to investigate sexual assault and rape cases without consulting the authorities. However, this approach has ignited significant controversy across the United States. Many disciplinary panels include staff members or even students who are woefully ill equipped to appropriately identify cases of sexual assault or rape, issue punishments to perpetrators or provide trauma aid to survivors. SB967 aims to reduce the ambiguity surrounding consent, requiring colleges to check for affirmative consent from both parties involved in every case.
The controversies surrounding the way colleges handle sexual assault and rape are alarming enough that the White House is taking action to address these issues. President Obama and Vice President Biden have appeared in commercials for “It’s On Us,” a sexual assault and rape awareness campaign that focuses on students, teachers, college faculty, and college administrators. In addition to this media campaign, the White House has also created a Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which released its first report in April 2014. The report opens with a dreadful statistics – one in five women attending college is sexually assaulted. This task force aims to reduce these numbers by providing schools and students with effective prevention and support tools.
The White House report reveals plans to get faculty, staff, and students talking about this issue more openly. There is a significant culture of shame surrounding sexual assault and rape for both female and male victims. Very few people report their assaults, due to self-blame, fear of future attacks (especially if the attacker is an intimate partner), or fear of people not believing them. The task force is currently directing schools to create survey systems and transparent policies so that they can quickly identify support and prevention needs in their communities.
There are dozens of high-profile stories of students butting heads with school administration due to problematic internal hearings. Columbia University has been making headlines after 23 students filed federal complaints against the college, alleging that Columbia has severely mismanaged sexual assault cases in violation of Title IX requirements. One of the students is Emma Sulkowicz, who has drawn significant media attention to the issue of campus-based sexual assault with her senior thesis project, titled “Carry That Weight.” Sulkowicz alleges that another Columbia University student raped her and claims that her college failed to pursue the case appropriately. Sulkowicz explains that she plans to carry her dorm room mattress with her everywhere until her attacker is expelled or until she graduates.