Will “Yes Means Yes” Work On Campus? No One Really Knows


Facing a possible epidemic of campus sexual assault, some colleges have cracked down on binge drinking, others have reined in fraternities, and still others are training incoming students not to be passive bystanders when they see signs of trouble, says the New York Times. The most talked-about new approach is to require mutual “affirmative consent,” and not just passive acquiescence, before any sexual contact–so-called “yes means yes” policies. California has raised the stakes becoming the first state to require every college to have a consent policy or lose state financial aid.

While advocates are nodding approval, experts and college administrators they have no idea if it will work any better than the other ways. In fact, they say, at a time when politicians from President Obama on down are calling attention to campus sexual assaults, responses are hampered by a lack of data about what works, leaving colleges to rely on instinct and anecdote. “In a lot of places, there is little to no evidence behind the measures being taken,” said Jane Stapleton of Prevention Innovations at the University of New Hampshire. “That doesn't mean they won't work. It means we don't know.” Under the new California law colleges must require “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” which can be verbal or communicated through actions. Consent to one kind of contact cannot be taken to mean consent to another.

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