Sexual assault is a national epidemic that has shown no sign of slowing, to the point where, almost with absolute statistical certainty, it’s happened to someone you know.
That is the horrible point which we have reached.
I mean, we’re at the point where we have a presidential candidate who think it’s acceptable to “grab women by the (expletive)” because he’s a “star.”
It is going to take dedicated societal change, and that is going to require the next generation’s full, consistent education about consent and healthy sexual relationships in order to change the culture.
While this is going to take decades of work to battle, a good first step would be establishing affirmative consent as a federal standard for all high schools and universities.
In 2014, California became the first state to have statewide college and high school affirmative consent implemented as law. The following year, New York approved a law that requires all college campuses in the state to include affirmative consent in their school conduct code and Connecticut did the same this year.
As a result, schools in California, New York and Connecticut educate their students on the meaning of consent as it is defined by state law and university conduct policy. So if schools like Chapman are teaching their students that consent means a verbal, consistent and conscious “yes,” what are the schools in the other 47 states teaching?
California law states that a “lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.”
But for the other states in the U.S., you won’t find any mention of affirmative consent in their legislation.
This poses a massive problem. Because of this, theoretically, a student from my home state of Washington could be taught a “no means no” policy while growing up, then go to a college in California where the standard is “yes means yes.” That does not excuse behavior, but it’s plain to see how conflicting messages on what defines consent could only further perpetuate rape culture. Education should be consistent so that it cannot be used as a perpetrator’s excuse.
Sexual assault is too big of a monster to be left up to individual states to define what constitutes it.
Part of the problem is that sexual assault is a topic that is rarely confronted head-on. This is why it was such a big deal when California, New York and Connecticut signed laws attempting to do just that – they recognized and defined the problem, then implemented legislation to educate students about affirmative consent and require universities to assist survivors in finding justice against assailants.
This is a good start. But this is a national issue. Sex is a universal aspect of the human experience. When we educate young people about topics as important as this, there needs to be a consistent message that is not only legally consistent, but morally. Affirmative consent is not something that can only be legally required – it needs to be required on a moral, human level, and that is only going to happen through changing citizens’ hearts and minds.
That won’t happen overnight. After we as a nation decide what absolutely constitutes consent (and I believe affirmative consent is the standard that should be nationally implemented), consent education can be strengthened by ensuring every student in the nation is receiving the same “yes mean yes” message. In high schools – as part of federally mandated sex education – we already teach sexually transmitted disease prevention, so why not affirmative consent as well?
The unfortunate reality may be that affirmative consent isn’t yet actually widely accepted in real life. People still think it is “unrealistic” or can be a “mood killer,” so they don’t actually do it with any sort of diligence, partially because at college campuses in 94 percent of states, you don’t legally need to.
These kinds of mixed messages are unacceptable and further damage the ongoing fight against sexual assault. The U.S. needs a stronger message that properly conveys rampant and unacceptable nature of sexual assault. Federal legislation against sexual assault that mandates education and awareness programs on consent and healthy sexual relationships would be a pragmatic step in educating the next generations to do better than ours and the ones before us have been able to do.