The ‘Yes Means Yes’ Law just passed by California’s legislature carries special meaning for Sofie Karasek, 21, who recalls how she was sexually assaulted during a student trip
three years ago.
”It’s a huge step forward,” she said about the new law, which is designed to protect students against rape and sexual assaults on the State’s university and college campuses. Karasek filed allegations that a male student, a leader of her organisation, sexually assaulted her when she was just 18, during an off-campus event. She was just starting out at the University of California, Berkeley at the time and said she was too confused to protest. The Political Science student has been an advocate for safety and support for victims of sexual violence on the campus ever since.
For months, student organisations and women’s advocacy groups have been pushing for the passing of Law SB 967 - widely dubbed ‘Yes Means Yes’. It was finally signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown on September 28.
California is the first State that has stipulated ‘affirmative consent’ before any students engage in sexual activity. However, the Law only applies to colleges that receive State funds. ”The person who is initiating the sexual intercourse is going to have ask you for your permission first,” Karasek told dpa. She noted that this is important because, under the new law, someone who is drunk, drugged, unconscious or asleep cannot grant consent. Consequently, a lack of resistance or silence cannot be considered as a ‘yes’ to having sex. Giving consent to engaging in sexual activity does not necessarily have to be verbal. “Someone can either say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or they can nod or shake their head,” Karasek explained. Democratic State senator Kevin de León sponsored the legislation in Sacramento.
”Every woman deserves the right to pursue the dream of higher education without being threatened by the nightmare of violence and sexual abuse,” said de León after the Bill was signed into law. Victims, activists and politicians on the US West Coast are not the only ones trying to raise awareness about the issue of sexual violence on campuses.
Every fifth female student has been a victim of sexual violence while studying at a US institution of higher education, according to statistics cited by de León. The Administration of US President Barack Obama is also taking a closer look at the issue. The US Department of Education is investigating complaints at dozens of colleges and universities, including Ivy League institutions like Princeton and Harvard.
Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, 21, has been in the headlines for weeks. She carries a mattress around the campus, to protest at the way the University handled her rape allegation. The art student said she was raped two years ago in her dorm room by a fellow student, and despite her complaints to the University’s administration, the attacker has not been brought to justice. Karasek also turned at a counselling centre at the University of California, Berkeley in 2012, looking for help. She filed a complaint, hoping that the University would quickly investigate her case. However, nothing happened for months. Meanwhile the alleged attacker has graduated and left the campus.
Earlier this year, Karasek and 30 other female students, who want their cases investigated, went to a federal agency. “Sometimes the indifference is even more offensive than the actual sexual assault,” complains Karasek.
The new Bill addresses that issue as well. It requires that faculty who are reviewing complaints need to be trained. The Bill also provides for access to counseling, health-care services and other resources, to the victims. All impacted institutions of higher education are required to make students aware of the new law and offer support and preventive measures. Many assaults are blamed on the ‘party culture’ at the universities and colleges, where students consume excessive alcohol and drugs. ”People are frequently engaging in sexual encounters that are really not consensual,” Rishi Ahuja told dpa. The 21-year-old Berkeley student fully supports the ‘Yes Means Yes’ initiative. ”I’m very much in favour of being more cautious around each other.” Karasek concluded, ”Students should simply be able to feel safe on campus. I’m very proud that students were able to get a Bill passed through the most populous State in the entire country. California tends to be a trendsetter and I’m hoping that other States will follow suit.”