California soon may become the first state to require colleges that receive state funds to strengthen policies on sexual assault by mandating that students give active consent to one another before all sexual activity, either by saying “yes” to a spoken query or by signaling assent in a nonverbal way, reports the New York Times. If Gov. Jerry Brown signs a measure passed by the California Legislature, the new standards would apply both to public universities in the state, many of which have adopted such rules, and to the many private colleges where students receive state grants.
The bill's supporters hope that it will not only reduce sexual assaults but also encourage more victims, who often fear they will not be believed, to report sexual violence on campuses. The federal Education Department has been investigating sexual assault on 55 campuses nationwide and prodding all colleges to do more to stop it. The California rules, known as affirmative consent, but popularly called “yes means yes,” would replace a standard in which no active agreement for sexual activity is required, but saying “no” is considered a threshold. Critics accuse the colleges and legislators of trying to micromanage sex and imposing a standard of consent so vague that it would be difficult to know what constituted a “yes.”