Affirmative Consent: Yes Means Yes

Nicholas Mrzocka

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In May (2016), Connecticut became the first state to follow California in adopting a “Yes means Yes” bill, creating a consent standard that targets sexual assault. An Act Concerning Affirmative Consent, Public Act No. 16-106, requires higher education institutions to utilize the affirmative consent standard on their campuses across the state. Institutions will not only be required to define consent affirmatively, but will be charged with educating their students about how to give and get affirmative consent before sexual activity

What is affirmative consent? Under the University of New Haven’s definition, affirmative consent is an understandable exchange of affirmative words or actions, which indicate a willingness to participate in a mutually agreed upon sexual activity. While our policy definition expands to define each piece of affirmative consent, it’s important to understand the main tenets of this Act. Primarily, institutions must define consent as an active, clear, and voluntary agreement between two persons seeking to engage in sexual activity. This definition makes the old “no means no” saying obsolete, highlighting the need to move away from society’s assumption that verbalized resistance, or a “no”, is necessary to stop sexual assault. In fact, the affirmative consent definition seeks to empower all parties to have a clear and informed say in their sexual activity. It also will remove the focus in sexual violence cases from what the victim was wearing, their substance use, their lack of resistance, or even silence in sexual situations. The questioning of a victim’s behavior or resistance in sexual assault cases is commonly referred to as victim blaming, and is all a part of a “rape culture” that is negatively shaping our college campuses. Instead of focusing on such factors, the conversation around sexual assault and violence will move to consider how each person achieved affirmative consent, and if that consent was valid. This Act, and those similar to it in California, New York, and Illinois, places the burden of gaining consent on squarely on both parties mutually agreeing to sexual actions through a solid “yes” response.

Now that this “Yes means Yes” Act is implemented in universities and colleges throughout our state, it may hopefully have positive repercussions that set an example for others to follow. As students at the University of New Haven, you are under the jurisdiction of this Public Act and are required to get affirmative consent for any sexual activity. As a quick reminder, here are some rules about consent for the next time you may try to get it from a partner:

  • Must be informed, freely and actively given;

  • Silence, or the absence of resistance does not imply consent;

  • Consent to engage in sexual activity with one person does not imply sexual activity with another, and past consensual activity does not imply current consent; and,

  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

For example, if you are engaging in sexual activity with a partner and they give affirmative consent, a verbal or nonverbal “yes”, but then decide they don’t want to continue, all sexual activity must cease immediately. As for alcohol or drug use, if a person is incapacitated, they are unable to give valid consent. Learn more about Incapacitation and how the University of New Haven defines it in the Student Handbook.

It is my hope that as Connecticut fully implements this Act, the University of New Haven can be the university that sets the positive example for other colleges/universities looking for guidance to in order to end “rape culture” and to create a safer climate in their community.

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Affirmative Consent: Yes Means Yes