Sexual Assult

California Changes “No Means No” Law to “Yes Means Yes” Law

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday signed off on the highly anticipated “yes means yes” law that defines sexual consent has a firm “yes” rather than the refrain “no means no.”

State lawmakers last month approved SB967 by Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, as states and universities across the U.S. are under pressure to change how they handle rape allegations. Campus sexual assault victims and women’s advocacy groups delivered petitions to Brown’s office on Sept. 16 urging him to sign the bill.

De Leon has said the legislation will begin a paradigm shift in how college campuses in California prevent and investigate sexual assaults. Rather than using the refrain “no means no,” the definition of consent under the bill requires “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”

“Every student deserves a learning environment that is safe and healthy,” De Leon said in a statement Sunday night. “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.”

The legislation says silence or lack of resistance does not constitute consent. Under the bill, someone who is drunk, drugged, unconscious or asleep cannot grant consent.

The new standard means that campus authorities will now have to grill the accused about whether and how he obtained consent — rather than the victim to prove that she refused — mitigating the trauma of investigations and encouraging more women to come forward.

“This is amazing,” said Savannah Badalich, a student at UCLA, where classes begin this week, and the founder of the group 7000 in Solidarity. “It’s going to educate an entire new generation of students on what consent is and what consent is not… that the absence of a no is not a yes.”

Many feel that that the law has an obvious flaw. Shikha Dalmia from Reason.com wrote that the law “assumes that sexual assault, already a crime under multiple laws, is the result of miscommunication. The assumption is that somehow one partner (and let’s be honest, it is overwhelmingly the one with a Y chromosome) didn’t ask or realize that the other wasn’t into it. But the fact is: Most assaulters know exactly what they are doing. The vast majority of campus rapes are committed by a small minority of repeat offenders who give not a damn about what the woman wants. And if they can threaten violence, they can also lie about obtaining consent”.

She brings up a big question: How will the law change anything?

Most importantly it brings the college sexual assault crisis into the public eye.

Female students at high-profile colleges including HarvardAmherst and Columbia accused officials of mishandling their rape cases. In response, President Barack Obama established atask force to reduce the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses.

In July, a report revealed the extent of the campus rape crisis, finding that 20% of colleges did not investigate the assaults they reported to the U.S. Department of Education, and 40% had not investigated a single assault in the past five years.

Finally, it seems that lawmakers are hearing the voices of college students, and doing their part to help all women feel comfortable on their college campus’.

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Columbia University Student Carries Around Mattress To Protest Sexual Assault

Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz is carrying around a mattress to every one of her classes until the man who allegedly sexually assaulted her over two years ago leaves campus as her final thesis project.

The art major is calling the performance art piece “Mattress Performance,” or “Carry That Weight.”

“It’s an art piece, but also a protest,” she said.

“I’ll do this until he leaves on his own or if the school expels him — anything that means we’re not going to school together. But I’m prepared to do it until I receive my diploma,” Sulkowicz told BuzzFeed.

Two other women have made accusations against the man that Sulkowicz says raped her in her bed when she was a sophomore. She said that he hit her face, choked her, and held her down when she wouldn’t comply with him.

The art student says a fellow student raped her in her dorm room bed on Aug. 27, 2012, the first day of her sophomore year. She reported it to campus authorities in April 2013.

Sulkowicz said she waited until the end of her sophomore year to file the report because she was hesistant and scared, and she made her decision after she spoke to other women who said they’d also been sexually assaulted by the same student.

enhanced-4298-1409708626-1Sulkowicz carrying the mattress
Photo Courtesy of Buzzfeed 

As for why she chose to carry around a mattress. The idea seemed symbolic for Sulkowicz. She said, “I was raped in my own dorm bed, so I think the idea of carrying the mattress represented, in my mind, carrying the weight of the memories that I have of that night and carrying the weight of how the school dismissed not only me but the other two women who reported against him, and the way the police harassed me when I reported my case.”

Sulkowicz told the Columbia Spectator that the extra-long, twin-sized mattress is the right size to draw attention to the issue — light enough to manage, but “heavy enough that I continue to struggle with it.” She says it also represents private space being dragged into the public.

“Rape can happen anywhere,” she explains to the Spectator. “For me, I was raped in my own dorm bed. Since then, it has basically become fraught for me, and I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere since then.”

“The past year or so of my life has been really marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate private space and bringing it out into the light,” she says. “So I think the act of carrying something that is normally found in our bedroom out into the light is supposed to mirror the way I’ve talked to the media and talked to different news channels, etc,” she told The Huffington Post

According to Sulkowicz, the accused attacker was allowed to postpone his hearing for about seven to eight months, which dragged through her summer vacation and gave enough time for one of the other women who filed a complaint against him to graduate.

She states that many people have been supportive. “The only reactions I’ve really received have been via email, text, and Facebook, and everything has been extremely positive — I’ve only received one really negative response to my piece,” she stated.

Sulkowicz told BuzzFeed that she hopes colleges will admit that their policies concerning sexual assault aren’t working and that they will take steps to improve communication between student activists who want to change how rape culture is dealt with at universities.

The college handled the case very insensitively. For example, when Sulkowicz’s case made it to a university hearing seven months after the actual incident occurred, administrators were confused about how anal rape could happen and she had to draw a diagram.

The piece not only protests rape, but how colleges deal with it. Many women, especially on Columbia’s campus all believe their cases were mishandled, in part by mistake-riddled record-keepingon the part of university authorities.

Columbia is choosing to make some changes. In response to a Title IX protest by 23 students, including Sulkowicz, they made changes to their policies dealing with sexual assault on campus. In response to the mattress protest, Columbia University Director of Communications Victoria Benitez said in a statement:

“The University respects the choice of any member of our community to peacefully express personal or political views on this and other issues. At the same time, the University is committed to protecting the privacy of students participating in gender-based misconduct proceedings. These matters are extremely sensitive, and we do not want to deter survivors from reporting them.”

Sulkowicz acknowledges the new reforms, but says they aren’t enough. She plans to continue carrying her mattress to every class until the university takes action against the student she says got away with rape.

“I will carry a mattress for every day I go to school with him this next semester, everywhere I go on campus,” she said. “The administration can end my art piece at any moment by just expelling my rapist.”

Her protest is amazing. It can clearly inspire change. Now, it is up to Columbia University to choose to re-evaluate their policies. No one should feel unsafe on campus, regardless of gender. It’s horrible that women across the country have to constantly worry about sexual assault. Not only do they have to worry that they will be assaulted, but that their attractors will remain unpunished and on campus, constantly close by and ready to rape again. Sexual assault is a horrible crime that should be punishable. Instead of blaming the victim, universities should investigate all claims and treat everyone with respect.