Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Yes Means Yes and No Means No; Relearning Affirmative Consent

By Anna MalinowskiPublished October 13, 2017

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Affirmative consent laws and policies in their various forms are sweeping the country, but is what is being done enough? Collectively labeled as "Yes Means Yes" laws, these new legislations are driving home the idea that the absence of a no is not a yes. Their focus is the college demographic, where sexual assault is increasingly being fought through education and political action.
By Anna Malinowski
10/13/2017

Affirmative consent laws and policies in their various forms are sweeping the country, but is what is being done enough? Collectively labeled as "Yes Means Yes" laws, these new legislations are driving home the idea that the absence of a no is not a yes. Their focus is the college demographic, where sexual assault is increasingly being fought through education and political action. In 2014, California became the first state to adopt such staunt policies against sexual assault and most recently, Minnesota joined the coalition this past August.


The ambition behind these laws is obvious, to eliminate sexual assault. However, they go beyond that. Not only do these laws aim to educate what consent it, they make it possible for states and colleges to prosecute offenders on the basis of them not having received affirmative consent, making it so that more wrongdoers are actually convicted. Rape cases are notoriously difficult because too often and for too long we've been operating under the assumption that if you did not say no, or ask to stop, you were okay with what was happening. Asking for consent along the way insures that both parties are in agreement with what is happening, and there is no need for any assuming to be done. Furthermore, having legislation on sexual assault prevents cases from being mishandled, establishes consistency in the policies and procedures, and encourages victims to come forward by letting them know they have rights.

Nonetheless, there still are flaws in this system. Principally, there is no reason for these laws to not be unambiguous across state lines. It is important that policy makers take note on what works by looking at successful systems for combating sexual assault and modifying their policies to reach the standard. It is even more important that these policies reach every state. Presently, more than half of the states in the United States do not have affirmative consent legislation either implemented or being developed.

The disparities among the states on this matter are huge. Delaware's legislation, for example, only requires that university official report the alleged assault to law enforcement officials within 24 hours of the case being brought to them. Hawaii only demands that it's university be consistent with its policies across its various campuses in the state. In New Jersey, institutes of higher education are required to adopt a standard for matters regarding sexual assault, domestic abuse, dating violence, and stalking. However, in New York and California, there are aggressive affirmative consent laws that should become at the very least the standard for the entire nation.  

In New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the "Enough is Enough" bill on July 7, 2015. It is arguably the most comprehensive bill on the matter. All colleges in New York are required to adopt a uniform understanding of what affirmative consent it to share with students. Victims received amnesty against campus violations such as drinking or doing drugs that would have prevented them from reporting sexual assault for fear of criminalizing themselves. In addition, law enforcement would grow to provide ample resources adequately prepared to properly handle sexual assault.

While this is a far from perfect system because it is so new, it is immense progress. What students once only had was a talk on consent and respect, if even that. We Cornell students can think back to the presentation on consent we were required to attend our first o-week on campus.
Education is important, but when it fails it is important to ensure that justice is brought forth.