From the Daily: Yes means yes

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published September 16, 2014

Sexual assaults on college campuses have become a growing concern as 78 colleges and universities — including our own campus — are under Title IX investigation. States are trying to remedy the problem by implementing legislation to prevent sexual assault and support survivors. In particular, the California state government has shifted the language regarding consent from “no means no” to “yes means yes,” and requires certain guidelines for survivor support and awareness. Given the surge of sexual assault cases, the state of Michigan and the University should review their current policies on sexual assault and implement elements of California’s legislation in order to create a safer campus environments across the state.

Passed in the state Senate in August, California State Bill 967 will require all post-secondary institutions that receive state-financed student aid in California to redefine consent within their sexual assault policies. The core message that the state is trying to spread is that giving consent means a person has verbally consented to sexual activity and has the full ability to do so — which requires that they must not be inebriated or under the influence of a substance that alters the decision-making process. The bill is unique in that it ties state aid to colleges’ and universities’ sexual assault policies, forcing school administrators to update their policies in order to continue receiving funding. Not only does this bill safeguard students’ safety, but it goes on to require that schools have effective systems in place to address the issues of sexual assault that do arise. Other provisions in the bill require colleges and universities to create comprehensive prevention programs and survivor-centered sexual assault policies that ensure colleges help sexual assault survivors seek medical care, counseling, legal assistance or any other service requested.

Unfortunately, the Michigan state legislature has yet to implement a similar policy or consider analogous legislation. Furthermore, the state doesn’t clearly define anything regarding consent. Defining consent is imperative, as doing so gives the judicial system a clear and defined way to deal with such cases. About 60 percent of rape cases go unreported, indicating that the majority of offenders receive no punishment.

It’s crucial that the University act proactively by implementing policies and strengthening resources available to survivors. One way to do so is by hiring a sexual assault nurse examiner at University Health Service, a trained professional who has the proper experience and knowledge to help survivors. Currently, the only SANEs in Ann Arbor are at the University Hospital and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. The University should offer a SANE during normal business hours to ensure a continuation of the healing process for survivors. The University should also continue its sexual health and assault education of students past freshman year. The Relationship Remix program required of new students educates students on proper sexual conduct, including defining consent, but it only reaches students in their freshman year. Continuing the conversation and education on campus is important for raising awareness of and preventing sexual assault, and can be done easily through methods such as reminding students at athletic events or flyering on the Diag.

Both the state of Michigan and the University should implement legislation similar to California’s “Yes Means Yes” legislation. Not only does this legislation change the language of consent, but it also enforces support for survivors and awareness through funding. In order to make a lasting change in preventing sexual assault, it is essential to create a culture of awareness.