States Pursue ‘Yes Means Yes’ Standard on Sex Assault

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In 2015, California became the first state to require that public schools teach students about the affirmative consent standard, which requires a clear, unambiguous and voluntary agreement to participate in a specific sexual activity. Last month, reports Stateline, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a law that requires public middle and high schools to teach age-appropriate ways to prevent dating violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual violence.

Similar bills on the “yes means yes” standard have been introduced this year in Illinois and Pennsylvania. The “yes means yes” measures don’t change the legal definition of sexual assault. They vary from state to state, but generally, “no means no” remains the legal standard for prosecuting sexual assault cases. Victims’ rights advocates say that criterion lends itself to ambiguity because a victim who is drunk or asleep cannot say “no” or otherwise give consent. That’s why the affirmative consent bills can help prevent sexual assault, they say. The affirmative consent bills come at a time of intense debate about sexual assault on college campuses. Over the past few years, a number of states, led by California, have passed legislation mandating public universities teach affirmative consent to their students. But opponents of the laws, such as Harry Crouch of the National Coalition for Men, a men’s rights group, argue that the affirmative consent standard is overly broad and can lead to false accusations. “They’re trying to change the nature of human affairs,” Crouch said.


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