As we continue to redefine “consent” as a society, it is important that our institutions follow this cultural trend. Lock Haven University needs to take an active stance toward implementing a “Yes Means Yes” policy on our campus.
Over the past ten years, a cry of “yes means yes” has begun to overshadow the “no means no” of a previous generation. ‘Yes means yes,’ or affirmative consent, is defined by California state law as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” It involves both a physical and emotional understanding between all parties involved and must be mutual and continuous throughout the duration of the sexual act.
LHU currently defines “consent” as the following:
“Consensual sexual activity happens when each partner willingly chooses to participate. Openly communicating about expectations and desires is critical to obtaining consent. Consent can only be given by a person who has control of his or her mental and physical capabilities.
“Sex without consent is sexual assault. Use of force, intimidation, or coercion is a denial of a person’s right to freely give his/her consent. Even if someone has agreed to engage sexually, that person has the right to withdraw his/her consent at any time.”
The Title IX pamphlets go on to remind students that they “have the right to say ‘NO!’”
While these efforts show an attempt toward affirmative consent, they are highly lacking in any real or definitive answer of what consent truly is or is not.
Other states and universities with ‘yes means yes’ policies choose to elaborate on what instances do not count as consent. For example, California specifies that a “lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent.”
Lock Haven’s definition neglects to enforce the fact that a person’s refusal of consent does not have to be loud or aggressive, nor does it have to even have to be verbally given. Consent should not be a gray area marred with misunderstanding. Unless everyone involved gives a firm “yes” or positive indication that undeniably demonstrates their willingness to participate in a sexual act, consent has not been given.
A ‘yes means yes’ policy is beneficial because it removes the responsibility of giving a “no” from the victim and transfers the role of asking for a “yes” to the accused. In other words, it’s a policy that works toward ending victim blaming at administrative and legal levels. California even goes as far as insisting that the accused take reasonable steps “in the circumstances known to the accused at the time, to ascertain whether the compliant affirmatively consented.”
In May 2015, Philadelphia Congresswoman Blondell Reynolds Brown met with representatives from Philadelphia universities to discuss a ‘yes means yes’ policy. The hearing included testimonies from Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of the Sciences, and the Holy Family University.
While Pennsylvania currently allows decisions on affirmative consent policies to be adopted on a city-by-city basis, it is important to recognize that Philadelphia, the home of 19 four-year colleges and universities, as well as 10 two-year institutions and technical schools, and five graduate institutions, has taken the incentive to begin discussing ‘yes means yes.’
Lock Haven is a university, but rape and sexual assaults still happen here. It is important for LHU to adopt policies that ensure the victim is supported if the need should ever arise.