Senate Bill 967, otherwise known as the ‘yes-means-yes’ bill, has recently passed unanimously in the California state Senate. It’s an interesting piece of legislation, driven by the need to curtain the growing number of incidences of rape on college campuses in the state. What it boils down to is that both parties involved in any sexual encounter must give ‘affirmative’ consent, verbally. Any communication, including silence or no resistance, other than actually saying “yes” can no longer be considered to be consent. If California Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill into law, which he has until the end of September to do, then this will mean that every school sexual assault policy in the state will have to include language to the above effect. This law would, of course, go beyond older “no-means-no” policies, which required dissent as opposed to assent.
CA Penal Code 261 defines rape as any sexual intercourse that is not consensual. It must be effected through force, threat, or trickery. If you are charged and convicted of rape, punishment includes up to 8 years in a California state prison and lifetime registration requirement as a sex offender. So-called ‘date rape’ is growing to be more common on college campuses across the nation (also covered by CA PC 261). This particular kind of rape happens when alleged victim and the alleged assailant have had a dating relationship prior to the incident in question. The law also provides for individuals who are not in an ‘official’ relationship, but are spending a good bit of time together. The penalties, however, for ‘date rape’ are the same.
The question remains whether or not changing laws to take into consideration a definitive ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ really gets to the heart of rape and sexual assault prevention. Some would argue that this is not a preventative, but merely a question of semantics, turning consensual intercourse into a business transaction.