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Mercury News: Only yes means yes

San Jose Mercury News

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Aug 21 2014 10:14 am • Last Updated Aug 21 2014 04:32 pm

Are the California Legislature’s proposed regulations for sexual conduct on colleges campuses yet another intrusion by a nanny state into the bedroom?

That’s how critics dismiss lawmakers’ attempt to combat alarmingly common sexual assaults on women at California’s colleges and universities. But it’s nonsense. When you look at the problem in search of an actual solution rather than a libertarian cliche, the point of the legislation — "yes means yes" — makes a lot more sense as a consent standard than "no means no."

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Senate Bill 967 would require California colleges to have such an "affirmative consent standard." With State Senate President Pro Tem-elect Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, as a co-sponsor, the bill passed the Senate in May and is in committee in the Assembly, where we hope it is approved and sent to the governor.

The reason for requiring a "yes" instead of the absence of a "no" is based on a truth on which nearly everyone agrees: Campus sexual activity that results in charges of assault almost always involves alcohol. And when you’re completely drunk, you’re probably not able to say much of anything.

This is the next step toward dealing with an assault problem that, like date rape, for generations was ignored on America’s college campuses — or at least not discussed in polite company. Women were conned into silence by a society that didn’t want to talk about sex.

That problem is in the past, to say the least. And now that women are speaking out, they’re often stunned to find leadership at their universities acting as though we’re still in the day of "Ozzie and Harriet."

It’s time to cure what is clearly still a big problem. UC Berkeley, USC, Occidental and even Harvard and Princeton are on a list of 55 colleges nationwide being investigated by the federal government on suspicion of underreporting and otherwise mishandling sexual assault cases.

University of California President Janet Napolitano acknowledged recently that college administrators are unequipped to be prosecutor and judge in sexual assault cases. That’s clear from what tends to happen now. Admitted assailants get a slap on the wrist and are back on campus with their victims in no time.

Knowledge is power, as ever. Let’s call out this form of rape for what it is and engage law enforcement.

A White House task force, citing statistics that indicate one in five American women college students is sexually assaulted while in school, has established a website that offers resources to victims (www.notalone.gov). This, California’s bill and other steps like it should lead to societal changes that finally repudiate the abhorrent notion that raping an incoherent woman is somehow acceptable.

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