Why “Yes Means Yes” Means “Maybe”

It turns out that the one day I postpone writing so I can review Gotham is the same day the whole world decides to go crazy.

In Hong Kong, thousands upon thousands have established “Occupy Central” to challenge Beijing’s infringements of their democratic rights…

…In California, one of the strongest anti-rape laws in recent history has just been passed…

…and Spain and Catalonia get ready to square off with each other in what could very well be the final battle for the small province’s independence.

In short, there’s a ton to talk about and not a lot of time, but since the Catalonians are still gearing up for the fight and the defiant protestors in Hong Kong have yet to be moved, it’s the SB-967 or “Yes Means Yes” Bill that we’ll be talking about today.

Now this law was specifically introduced to target sexual assaults on  campus, citing new standards for all schools receiving state funding. While welcomed by many as a long over-due response to the pandemic of rape on US campuses, the bill has nevertheless been criticized by some as being overly broad, with the potential of redefining much of sex as “rape” for  failing to meet the criteria set by the law. Cathy Young of Time magazine sarcastically comments that such a law would effectively require participants to sign notarized agreements proving consent prior to engaging in the activity.

That particular issue is going to become the crux of the debates in the days and weeks to come. How do we define consent? How do we provide adequate protection against assault without automatically presuming the guilt of the accused? How do we effectively prosecute such a standard as this?

Those are all good questions- none of which this post will be addressing. Instead, we’ll be taking a look at what this law gets right and yes, what it doesn’t- as well as some reactions from the public at large.

Now the men’s advocacy groups have had a fairly predictable reaction…

Something like this…

…kinda forgetting that this law is directed at colleges (and only those receiving state funds) and not society as a whole. As much as self-titled “masculinists” are going to try to use this law as material for their “men are so oppressed” spiel, the groups have made such idiots of themselves over the past few years as to make it unlikely they’ll get any real attention.

The feminist and social justice crowd, on the other hand, has reacted more or less like this…

After all, this is a historic move towards addressing what has been a long standing issue on campuses and a source of national shame and embarrassment. No longer will campuses be able to stand by and do nothing. No longer will the victim of the assault be forced to watch his/her rapist freely walking the campus.

Or does it?

Folks defending “Yes Means Yes” have pointed out that a number of colleges have already adopted such “affirmative-consent” policies. The problem with that is, these same campuses (Duke University being the most infamous, though there are plenty of others) still have issues with sexual assault. The boards and disciplinary committees of universities have been notorious for failing to act in such cases (part of the reason SB-967 was drafted to begin with) and even with this increased standard for consent, what good is a law if you don’t enforce it?

And what about a law you can’t enforce?

Occidental College recently expelled an unnamed student for a violation of their “affirmative-consent” policy, arguing that his having had sex with a “too drunk to give consent”. The student (unsuccessfully) argued that he was likewise drunk and was unaware of her condition.

Now I don’t know if that’s true or not. Those are the only details I have on the case and I can’t (and won’t) try to label anyone as guilty or innocent. It does bring up what appears to be a flaw in the system. What happens if neither party vocalizes their consent? What if both are intoxicated, medicated, or have their judgment in some way inhibited? What if the case comes down to yet another “he-said-she-said” dilemma?

Yet another issue is that of the crime itself. This law (in theory) makes it easier to prosecute rapists- and as great as that is- it’s no substitute to preventing the crime from happening in the first place. Granted, the folks who defend this law assert that a guarantee of consent will ensure that there can be no miscommunication, but how much is that going to change things? From my understanding- and please, please correct me if I’m wrong about this– having sex with someone who’s intoxicated or otherwise incapacitated is already illegal. Surely there are better alternatives (increased security, better culture, and teaching people to not ****ing sexually assault each other- being the most obvious) than restating what’s already on the books.

But hey- this law will bring some rapists to justice. That’s something worth applauding. All the same I can’t help but feel that this law’s opponents are unjustified in their terror and its champions are unwarranted in their celebration. While there’s no sane person in this country who’d oppose better ways of convicting rapists, I have to ask- is this law really going to do that? I hope it will, but I think that remains to be seen.

We’re faced now with a decision to hope for change or to keep fighting for it. And as always we say:

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2 responses to “Why “Yes Means Yes” Means “Maybe”

  1. Pingback: Representation, As In, How We Present Ourselves [I Need To Get Groceries] | Culture War Reporters

  2. Pingback: A Visual Reminder of What Sexual Harassment in the Workplace (Still) Looks Like | Culture War Reporters

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