VALENCIA, CA- Officials at College of the Canyons are due to discuss state legislation that sets a new standard for investigating charges of sexual assault on California State colleges that receive financial aid. Senate Bill-967 changes the language of what constitutes as consensual sex.
‘Yes means Yes’, as it is more commonly known, was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September of 2014, and says that students engaging in sexual activity must actively voice affirmative consent, effectively rendering the previously accepted ‘no means no’ adage null and void.
According to the new law, consent must be sober, conscious and voluntary, ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. It also says that silence and lack of resistance do not constitute consent.
“They have kind of done a game changer with ‘yes means yes’…a lot of times people find themselves in a situation where they other wise wouldn’t and they don’t know how to get out of it” Vice President of Student Services at College of the Canyons Michael Wilding said. “I think this law is trying to protect those people. This [sb-967] raises the bar and protects those people who are vulnerable.”
Students at College of the Canyons have mixed feeling about sb-967. “I think not condoning drunk sex is not realistic because it’s going to happen either way” 23 year old Mickey Rourke told Cougar News.
When asked if she thought sb-967 was a good idea, 22 year old COC student Breana Johnson said: “oh yeah. 100 percent…I think its going to be difficult for students to apply it to their own lives, but I think it’s a very good idea.”
Several California state funded universities have already adopted the new guidelines in order to address what the White House has called “an epidemic” on U.S. college campuses.
In a poll published by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, 43 percent of dating female college students experience some form of abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, technology related and verbal abuse.
“Every student deserves a learning environment that is safe and healthy…the State of California will not allow schools to sweep rape cases under the rug. We’ve shifted the conversation regarding sexual assault to one of prevention, justice and healing” Senator Kevin de Leon told reporters in September when the bill was signed.
There are, however, those who oppose sb-967 on the grounds that it contradicts the principles of due process. In a criminal court of law, it is the responsibility of the accuser to provide evidence in support of their allegations. That may not be the case for students who find themselves in front of a college judiciary committee. The accused may end up bearing the burden of providing evidence of innocence, or be expelled from school.
In an op-ed by Susan Kruth, Legislative and Policy Director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Joe Cohn said: “Unless the hearing board can show that the consent was offered, they’re now obligated to treat it as if it was nonconsensual. That shifts the process dramatically against an accused person.”
Supporters of ‘Yes means yes’ argue that a university setting is not a criminal court of law and the burden of proof does not lay with the accuser the way it would in a courtroom.
In a report by KPBS, Jessica Pride, an attorney to alleged victims of sexual assault, was quoted as saying, “When the burden is on the victim to prove that they said ‘no’ or resisted, it’s almost victimizing the victim twice. In this instance, now what’s going to happen is the culture is going to change, because the accused is going to have to prove that they got an affirmative ‘yes’ before proceeding.”
In response, Kruth wrote, “Let’s not mince words. This is ‘guilty until proven innocent.’”
However, according to the new law and COC’s related Board Policy: “No inference shall be drawn from the silence of the accused. The standard of proof to be applied in these hearings is that of a preponderance of evidence.”
Since most cases of sexual assault occur when only the complainant and the accused are present, the hearing committee assigned to determine whether or not a violation occurred will consider the greater weight of the evidence to decide in favor of one side or the other.
The preponderance of evidence is based on the more convincing evidence and its probable truth or accuracy, and not on the amount of evidence.
Officials at College of the Canyons are due to discuss sb-967 and the schools policy towards sexual assault in various meetings during the current semester.