The State of California has passed a new “yes means yes” law aimed at what some believe is an epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses (though it’s disputed how much of an epidemic there really is).
“California, the first state to implement this law, will require colleges that want to keep their state funding intact to deploy the ‘affirmative consent’ standard when adjudicating sexual assault cases,” writes Reason’s Shikha Dalmia. “This means that campus authorities will have to establish whether the partners obtained ‘affirmative, conscious, and voluntary’ agreement. Although non-verbal consent is allowed, verbal is better. And it has to be obtained at every stage — touching, kissing, and foreplay — not just initially.”
Obviously nobody (with the exception of rapists and sex predators, I suppose) want to see anyone get sexually assault. But as a matter of public policy, will this reduce sexual assaults?
I don’t think so, because the problem with sexual isn’t communication. The people who are doing the sexual assaulting aren’t committing their crimes because they weren’t aware that their partner didn’t want any touching, kissing, etc. They committed their crime because they wanted sexual contact and didn’t really care if their partner agreed.
Saying “no” doesn’t stop a rapist. It will stop someone who is not a rapist. But non-rapists are not the problem.
I’m reminded of the absurdity of “gun free zones,” which aim to stop gun violence by telling people they cannot bring guns into certain areas. But really, all gun free zones do is disarm law-abiding people.
No criminal intent on gun violence is going to be stopped by an imaginary “zone.”
What these misguided policies do accomplish is the ensarement of innocent, well-meaning people. Lawful gun owners are routinely flummoxed by our ridiculously complex time, place, and manner restrictions on going armed. So to are innocents made targets of sexual assault charges based on policies so ridiculous broad and complex that behavior that is merely caddish, but not what reasonable people might describe as criminal, is punished in extreme ways.
This law in California isn’t going to stop those bent on taking unwilling sexual contact. I doubt those people, already intent on committing a crime, are going to care much for getting permission before kissing or touching.
But what this law will do is complicate consensual sexual relations. It’s going to bring fear and uncertainty, and ultimately enable those who make false accusations.
In other words, it will make things worse, not better.