State Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, and Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield, are co-sponsoring a bill to require all public and private state universities and colleges to establish “affirmative consent” as the threshold in sexual assault and partner violence cases.
The standard of affirmative consent has already been implemented at the University of Connecticut and Yale University, Haddad said. The bill seeks to clarify existing school policies about what “consent” is and to provide consistency statewide.
According to Haddad, the “yes means yes” policy is easier for students to understand especially if they are incapacitated or not in a proper state to give consent. Affirmative consent requires the consent of both parties as opposed to one, Haddad explained.
The proposed Connecticut bill is modeled after California’s affirmative consent law that was passed last September. California was the first state to pass such a law and Haddad attested to the success of these types of laws already implemented on college campuses across the country.
The law defines affirmative consent as “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” and clarifies that the lack of protest, resistance, or even silence does not qualify as consent.
Flexer commented that since the implementation of affirmative consent at the University of Connecticut and following the Title IX lawsuit that was settled last July, “students have been more open to communication” about sexual assault on campus.
The lawsuit was filed in November 2013 by five female students who claimed that the school ignored their rape and sexual harassment complaints and resulted in a settlement of $1.3 million, according to a joint statement from the university and the students involved.
The approval of the bill would lead to further on-campus programming and education statewide about sexual assault, “especially bystander training, which would entail what sexual assaults look like and the tools available on campus for students,” Haddad said.
The bill also would require sexual assault education programs that already are in place at the University of Connecticut and Yale University to be consistent and to be “replicated across the state,” according to Flexer.
“We as a society need to engage in these types of ongoing discussions in order to create more understanding, higher expectations, and greater safety for young men and women,” Flexer said. “Hoping that the scourge of campus sex assault will just go away is not an option.”
The bill was referred last week to the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, where Flexer is senate vice-chair and Haddad is a member. Although no committee action has taken place, Flexer hopes that “within the month we can get right into discussion.”