On Sept. 28, Governor Jerry Brown expanded sexual assault policy in California institutions of higher education by approving legislation mandating that California colleges and universities must adopt a standard of affirmative consent.
Affirmative consent, according to SB 967, constitutes “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Additionally, the law states that in the adjudication of sexual assault cases, consent cannot be obtained of the alleged victim was unconscious, mentally incapable giving it or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
All universities and colleges that receive federal financial are under the bill’s mandate.
The passage of the bill contributed to a larger conversation regarding sexual assault being carried by the University of California as well as federal legislators.
Introduced in February by Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Sen. Kevin de Léon (D-Los Angeles), SB 967 followed the establishment of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault by President Barack Obama in January.
In March, preceding the first report by Obama’s task force in April, the University of California expanded its sexual assault policy, voluntarily adopting an affirmative consent standard.
In addition to voluntarily adopting an affirmative consent standard, the March update of UC policy also streamlined sexual assault definitions across the ten-campus system.
At last month’s UC Regents meeting, President Janet Napolitano’s sexual assault task force, established in June, presented recommendations for systemwide policy changes regarding sexual assault education, prevention and response.
Currently, there are also three pieces of federal legislation attempting to bolster practices regarding sexual assault on college campuses.
In the House of Representatives, the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) on Campus Sexual Violence Act seeks to require the Department of Education to post a list of universities and colleges under investigation for their sexual assault policies. Also, the HALT Campus Sexual Violence Act would require schools to distribute annual statements of their sexual assault policies to student groups and each of their members or applicants.
In the Senate, the Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act would require schools to have an independent advocate for victims of sexual assault. A requirement for an independent advocate was part of the September recommendations to the UC regents. UC Irvine’s Campus and Assault Resources office currently has its own advocate for sexual assault victims.
Also in the Senate, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act would require schools to enter into memorandums of understanding with local law enforcement that would require the sharing of information regarding any campus-related incidents of sexual assault.
Both HALT and the Campus Accountability and Safety Act have provisions that call for additional funding for schools to implement any policy changes.
Sexual assault policy has been a focus of the University of California Students Association’s advocacy and lobbying efforts as well.
Last spring, University of California Students Association (UCSA) representatives attending the annual student lobbying conference spoke to members of the California Legislature, urging them to support SB 967. Additionally, over the summer, UCSA took on sexual assault awareness as its newest campaign. Called UConsent, the campaign adapted the goals of the UCLA’s 7000 in Solidarity campaign, taking it on a systemwide level. The campaign takes a three-pronged approach, focusing on awareness, education and advocacy.
Meghan Warner, a Berkeley undergraduate that contributed to the Title IX complaint against her school and representative on Napolitano’s task force, reminded the regents at their September meeting that amidst the positive political climate for sexual assault, there must be tangible sources of funding for these programs.
“Without real funding increases, these recommendations are simply a PR stunt that will not make a difference in student safety,” Warner said.