Don't be afraid of affirmative consent

BY CARLY MADDEN | Guest Contributor | Last November UMD’s MPIRG and WRAC hosted Consent Week—a week devoted to educating students on consent and sexual violence, specifically with how those issues pertain to college campuses.

The new policy, sometimes referred to as the “yes means yes” policy, recognizes that there are more ways to not consent to sex than just explicitly saying no. This helps eliminate the gray area when it comes to the consequences of committing sexual assault. Affirmative consent means that anyone who is intoxicated, or otherwise incapacitated, cannot give meaningful or lawful consent to sex.

In 2014, California was the first state to adopt the new policy brought forth by students’ outrage at the widespread amount of sexual crimes on college campuses and the lack of concern or action taken by college officials.

At the University of Minnesota, if a sexual encounter occurs without clear and unambiguous consent, it fits their definition of sexual assault. Anything that isn't a vocalized affirmation isn’t legally a “yes” to sex. With this policy, anyone accused of sexual assault is guilty until proven innocent. Opponents of the new policy argue that it violates the rights of the accused and that it’ll lead to more people making false sexual assault accusations.

Honestly, that’s a weak argument. If you don’t do anything that is borderline sexual assault and you make sure that the other person is 100 percent okay with everything you’re doing, you have nothing to worry about and should be in full support of affirmative consent. A good way to avoid being falsely accused of sexual assault is to not do anything suspicious and to make sure you’re clearly obtaining consent before engaging in any sexual act.

While it’s true that this policy is different from the United States’ right of “innocent until proven guilty,” I don’t believe that this will lead to an increase in false accusations. We know that only 2 to 8 percent of rape accusations are provably false and the new policy is only applied when students file a sexual assault complaint.

Now when this happens, officials will be asking the accused if the other party said yes or if they wanted to do everything that happened, rather than asking the accuser if they said no. Again, this reiterates the rational idea that you should be checking in with your partner and making sure that you aren’t doing anything to make the person uncomfortable, keeping in mind the simple “yes means yes” rule.

In addition, this change protects more potential victims and hopefully lessens the amount of passive aggressive victim-blaming, implying that what the victim was wearing or how they were acting somehow makes the assault their fault. It aims to make it explicit to students that silence does not equal consent—and to make lines less blurry.

There’s no reason to fear this new policy. Instead of worrying so much about being falsely accused, worry about making sure the person you are with is comfortable and consenting to everything you want to do. Worry about doing as much as you can to prevent someone from being assaulted.

Sex-related crimes are far too prevalent, so the next step is to get all college campuses across the U.S. to adopt this same rule and reduce the prevalence of sexual violence that has always affected them. This legislative season, MPIRG is continuing to help push for a statewide affirmative consent policy in Minnesota.

We should be embracing this new policy because affirmative consent simply means that both parties have to explicitly say yes, which is the way sex should always work.

It’s sensible, and if you're doing nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about.

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