Just weeks after President Obama launched the national “It’s On Us” campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault on college campuses, California followed suit. On Sept. 28, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the “Yes Means Yes” bill (SB 967) into law, establishing an affirmative consent standard in campuses across the state.
The new law seeks to improve the way colleges and universities respond to sexual assault accusations. It requires both parties involved in sexual activity to give affirmative consent. According to the law, consent cannot be assumed based on previous relationship, silence, or intoxication and can be revoked at any time. Schools will be required to begin reevaluating and changing their policies and practices, as necessary, on January 1, 2015.
At California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), where an average of 2.6 sexual assaults are reported each year in the past 5 years, students are celebrating the enactment of the law and sharing their ideas on what more can be done on campus.
CSULB senior Sharron Bowens, said, “I think the law will make people more comfortable coming out [if they were sexually assaulted].”
Recent reports from colleges across the country showed that with a growing awareness of sexual assault on campus, there is an increase in the reporting of sexual assaults at some colleges, a sign of progress, according to advocates.
While such an increase has yet to be seen at CSULB, campus advocates say they would like to see more support for rape survivors.
“I would say the thing that we lack on campus is the knowledge of what to do when you’ve been sexually assaulted,” said Jay Jenkins, CSULB Senior who currently serves as Chief of Staff for her school’s student government Associated Students Inc. “We would benefit so much to have a sexual assault advocate on campus whose sole purpose was to help survivors in need.”
CSULB Psychology and Women’s Studies Student Julissa Salas, 23, who currently serves as the treasurer of student organization Feminist Organization in Reclaiming Consciousness and Equality (F.O.R.C.E.), agreed more needed to be done, saying, “A lot of freshmen don’t know what sexual assault is or what constitutes sexual assault.”
Tefary Burford, senior at CSULB, said one way CSULB can raise awareness of sexual assault on campus is by having presentations during regularly scheduled classes. “That way, there is more of a guarantee the information will reach a wide range of students,” he said.
Not only is more education around consent and support services for victims necessary, according to advocates, but some students feel that more campus watch services could also make them feel safer.
“I think that CSULB can increase campus police and escorts as they are very sparsely spread around campus when it gets dark and we need a ride to our cars,” Bowens said.
For Jenkins, it isn’t just about parking lots and walking on campus at night.
“I don’t think women or men should ever feel safe,” she said, adding that students should practice bystander intervention when they see someone drunk at a party by making sure they get home safely. “The “Yes means Yes” law does a lot, but it’s still on us to enact it.”
SB 967 also requires that campuses create partnerships with community-based organizations or campus organizations, in order to receive state funding.
The California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), one of the proponents of SB 967, is one of the organizations working with a network of rape crisis centers to prepare them to work with colleges and universities in the area.
With the implementation of the law on campus, Jenkins said, “I finally feel like students, faculty, and staff are gaining an understanding about sexual assault. That no matter what they wore, what they said, or what they drank, in no way did they ask to be raped.”
“Although I know that all laws can’t fix everything, I think this is a step in the right direction,” Salas said. Jenkins expressed similar thoughts: “Of course I want to believe sexual assault will stop one day but we need to be cautious always.”