Affirmative Consent Policies and Legislation: “Yes means Yes!” Replacing “No means No!”

July 28, 2016

Sexual assault can happen to anyone regardless of gender, sex, or sexual orientation. Concerns about what constitutes consent are core issues that have risen with the recent increase in high-profile college sexual assault cases at Steubenville, Vanderbilt, and Stanford . A majority of Americans are familiar with the phrase “No means No” in regards to sexual consent. However, it is apparent that not everyone is able to say “no.” In the cases where a victim does not say no, this indicates a lack of consent.consent

There are of course other factors to be considered. State and federal laws are now addressing those factors by removing the previous “No means No” mantra and replacing it with “Yes means Yes,” along with affirmative consent legislation. California, New York, Illinois, and Connecticut have already enacted affirmative consent laws, and 18 other states are currently drafting legislation. Colleges and universities are creating their own affirmative consent policies as they wait for state and federal action.

Currently, affirmative consent policies or laws require:

  • All individuals be conscious
  • All individuals be in a coherent state of mind (i.e., not incapacitated)
  • All individuals actively and equally participate without hesitation
  • There is an absence of coercion, physical force, or threat of physical force
  • There is an enthusiastic yes, to be verbalized

With more of the public attention focusing on the issue of consent, school policies and state and federal laws are being asked to provide clear definitions for affirmative consent. Policies now acknowledge that previous consensual relations do not constitute consent for future sexual acts. During intimacy, each act is acknowledged as separate, and giving consent for one action does not mean the individual is consenting to everything or anything that follows. Most important, policies now clarify that consent can also be withdrawn at any time.

In the act of changing the mantra we use from “No Means No!” to “Yes Means Yes!” we, as a society, are acknowledging that an absence of “No” does not constitute consent. Instead we are reaffirming that consent must be freely given, free of physical force and coercion, as a conscious decision, and enthusiastically.


Sources: The Affirmative Consent Project (2016), The New York Times, NPR.

Writer: Melanie Emerson is a recent Health Science graduate of Gettysburg College.  While in college she interned at a women’s health center involving issues related to sexual health, assault, and domestic violence. 


College Rape Prevention Program Proves a Rare Success

June 23, 2015

A trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine found a lowered risk of rape in college women who participated in an experimental sexual assault prevention program in Canada this past year.  This program addressed preventing sexual assault through a multifaceted approach, including defense skills, defining sexual boundaries, assessing and avoiding risky behavior like drugs and alcohol.

The study produced significant results: the risk of completed rape was lowered by 10 percent in the women who participated in the program, compared to 5 percent in the control group. Even more significant was the lowered risk of attempted rate in the resistance group–9.3%–compared to the 3.4% reduction in the control group.

This promising study highlighted key elements that are unique to other sexual assault prevention programs implemented at other colleges and universities at the moment. The program focused not only on education and prevention, but also on developing self-defense skills and increasing knowledge and awareness about acquaintance rape among other instances of sexual assault. However, there are arguments that the program focuses on helping potential victims avoid sexual assault rather than focusing on preventing perpetrators from attempting assault.

One important area that was focused on in this program was acquaintance rape and overcoming emotional barriers that victims of sexual violence face. Because the majority of sexual violence occurs between acquaintances, this program was successful because it focused on consent and helped college women understand how to maneuver social situations and use friends as bystanders.


University Tackles Sexual Assault Before The Parties Start

June 18, 2015

According to a National Public Radio broadcast, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men will experience sexual assault or violence in their lifetimes, the most vulnerable time being associated with college life and the ages 18 to 25. The U.S. Department of Justice Policing Services found that college women are more at risk for sexual assault than women of the same age that are not in college, and estimated that 25% of college women have been victims of rape.

Sexual assault prevention has become an important issue for college and university campuses to stop ignoring and address directly. Especially for incoming students who have not yet become accustomed to campus culture, awareness and knowledge about sexual assault and violence is essential. As a result, many institutions have implemented a variety of prevention programs, such as conferences, workshops, online courses, and forums, in order to increase awareness about sexual violence and assault and to promote the role of the bystander.

At the University of New Hampshire, one such prevention approach includes an online seminar that is taken by incoming first-year students before arriving on campus. It is designed to stimulate discussions between students and their parents and family about sexual assault in order by providing talking points and online resources and statistics in order to anticipate potential situations and instances of vulnerability for students. In the year since its implementation, the university’s Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) has received two state awards, including the 2015 Presidents’ Leadership Award.

Another approach for preventing sexual violence is being developed by National Health Promotion Associates (NHPA) through funding by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Based on the Botvin Lifeskills Training program, this sexual violence prevention program will focus on issues that tackle topics of sexual violence as well as related issues of drug and alcohol abuse and risky behavior. This “holistic” approach will encourage discussions and awareness about difficult topics and help college students develop life skills that will help them throughout their college years and beyond.

%d bloggers like this: