Two lawmakers hope that any confusion about what affirmative consent means when it comes to sexual encounters on college campuses has been cleared up between legislative sessions.
Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, and Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, will reintroduce legislation that mandates all state universities adopt a standard of affirmative consent, which requires the accused to prove they obtained consent before sex.
At the moment victims have to come forward and prove that they said no. Flexer said the legislation asks the perpetrators to prove how they got consent and removes that burden from victims.
The bill passed the Senate last year 34-1. Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, was the only Senator to vote against the bill.
The bill never came up for a vote in the House even though the Senate passed it several weeks before the session ended. And even though it passed the committee 14-3, there was a lengthy bipartisan debate over what constituted sexual activity and consent last year.
Flexer admitted last week at a press conference at the University of Connecticut that she was disappointed at times with the debate. However, she thinks last year’s experience was successful in laying the groundwork for adoption of the bill this year.
Flexer said adopting the standard will change the climate on college campuses and “initiate discussions” because all students will have to be trained about consent. That training would happen during an already mandated discussion about sexual assault on campus.
She said affirmative consent should be a standard that’s universal across all the state’s institutions to protect victims and “change the culture on college campuses.”
Flexer explained that sexual assault often goes unreported because the victim is afraid the investigator won’t believe them.
“Silence is not consent,” Flexer said.
Haddad said there are many college campuses that have already adopted affirmative consent policies, but it’s the training aspect of the legislation that’s important. He said it’s about making sure both young men and young women understand the communication they have with their intimate partners is really important.
“With proper training we can prevent many unfortunate situations on college campuses,” Haddad said.
Haddad admitted that debate about the issue last year was very “challenging.”
He said he and Flexer spent hours talking to their colleagues about what the legislation did and what it didn’t do and why it was important.
“I know we have the votes to pass it in the House if we can get it to the floor,” Haddad said.
He said most lawmakers come to the process with an open mind and what he was pleased about last year was the willingness of his colleagues to listen.
The nation discussion about the issue will also help, Flexer said.
“The more we’re talking about this the more we’re improving the climate that no longer allows sexual assault to be acceptable,” Flexer said.