California considering universal consent standards to combat sexual assault

The California State Assembly is set to review legislation that would require schools receiving public funding to adopt an “affirmative consent standard,” clearly defining when sex is consensual and when it is not.

California would be the first state in the country to refer to a collection of discrete actions and cues in order to determine whether or not consent is given. While nonverbal cues such as nods could be interpreted as consent, mere silence and unresponsiveness would not. Instances involving the intoxication, lack of consciousness, or drug use of any of the involved parties would similarly nullify any claims of consent.

The proposed California bill, which originally made its way through the state Senate in May in a 27-4 vote, takes cues from a report made by the White House task force earlier this year. Statistically speaking, the report says, one in five female college students and one in 72 male college students reporting having been sexually assaulted.

The Campus Safety and Accountability Act, a bipartisan bill introduced to the Senate floor in late August, seeks to streamline the processes surrounding sexual assault on campus from initial reporting to disciplinary proceedings. Legislatures in Maryland, Connecticut and Texas have introduced bills encouraging colleges in their states to take a tougher stance against sexual assault, but California’s would be the first to set a consent standard.

The inherent ambiguity associated with non-explicit declarations of intent and consent have been the source of much of the bill’s opposition. Considering the settings in which college sexual encounters tend to take place, both defenders and detractors of bill are considering the impact that it would have on the ways college students think and talk about sex on campus.