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Ohio could use a "Yes Means Yes" law

California lawmakers have changed the way colleges define consent-- and sexual assault. (photo/cbsnews.com)

California lawmakers have changed the way colleges define consent-- and sexual assault. (photo/cbsnews.com)

Colleges have been in the news a lot lately for mishandling sexual assault cases. The internet has given these cases a lot of publicity, and outrage has ensued. That outrage is justified; most universities clearly aren’t equipped to handle assault cases properly. In a system where victims are forced to answer the exhaustive, and often times insensitive, questions of a faculty panel, where assailants are sometimes expelled and rarely prosecuted, and the reputation of the university is protected before the students are, it’s clear where the incompetencies lie. 

For all of the bumbling, blatant mishandlings of sexual assault cases by university panels, a bit of hope shines from California’s recent legislation. Senate Bill 967, aka the “Yes Means Yes” law, was passed in the state of California on Sept. 28. This law got its well-known nickname from the precedent it set: that consent is defined by the presence of a yes rather than the absence of a no. The law changes how sexual assault is defined by university councils. It assures victims that even if they did not verbally or physically rebuff their attacker, their assault can still be defined as assault. 

Despite the positive nature of its message, this law is quite controversial. Men’s advocacy groups contend that women will use the broadened definition of assault to pin crimes on innocent boys. They imagine that scorned ex-lovers will use the new law to exact revenge. After all, a “victim” does not have to claim he or she struggled, said no, or tried to get away from the assailant. All that she must prove is that she didn’t say yes. And “prove” is used broadly here, as the panel only needs to think her accusation is likely to take punitive action. 

To respond to these men, yes, laws are often abused. Freedoms are also often abused. Does that mean we should take them away? No, because the good that legal freedoms do is greater than the harm caused by abusers of the system.

Many reading this might think this issue doesn’t have much to do with the ONU campus. That is far from the truth. As safe as we think our campus is, it is not free from sexual violence. 

When I first decided to attend ONU, I looked up the crime statistics of Ada. At the time, almost three years ago, there were no reported rapes (emphasis on “reported”). Looking at the university’s crime log today, you’ll find that two forcible sexual assaults occurred in both 2010 and 2012, with one non-forcible sexual assault being reported in 2010. Those numbers may seem small, but they are not negligible. 

Likely, all five of those victims had to go through the humiliating procedure of reporting the offenses committed against them. They had to testify before a faculty panel, which may or may not have received adequate training on handling sexual crimes. Granted, they did not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their assailant was guilty, but the victims did have to retell details of their attack in order to give reasonable evidence of truth. 

Most importantly, the victims had to prove that the assault was non-consensual. 

Consent is made out to be a tricky subject. Some aspects of it are obvious: if a person is asleep, drunk, underage, struggling, or giving a verbal “no,” then there is not consent. But what if the person says no at first, then later gives in? What if he or she says nothing? It is in these formerly gray areas that the California law protects victims.

I find it appalling that this definition of consent was not implemented sooner, and is still absent in Ohio laws. Yet, how could it be when society’s definition of consent is still from the stone ages? Usually laws are passed based on society’s general viewpoint. Only in California, the capital of progressivism, does this norm sometimes reverse. 

In Ohio, we are unlikely to see a “Yes Means Yes” law unless there is significant outrage coupled with a dramatic shift in society’s viewpoint. Until that happens, victims are going to be mistreated. Their cases are going to be mishandled. It only stops when the public decides that “No Means No” isn’t good enough anymore.  

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