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Consent Policies on College Campuses

By August 30, 2017February 22nd, 2023No Comments

“It won’t happen to me” is an attitude that many students entering college have when it comes to sexual assault. However, what many incoming students do not know is that there is a possibility that they will experience sexual assault- and it is not that far-fetched. On average over 1 in 10 college students experience rape or sexual assault during their time in college.  Among college women, 9 in 10 victims of rape and sexual assault knew their offender.

These numbers only reflect those who report their assault. Many victims do not report their assault for a variety of reasons. For one, they may feel as though their story will not be believed. They also may refrain from reporting because they are embarrassed or ashamed about what happened and do not want others to know. Other common reasons for not reporting are that the victim does not think the incident was serious enough, or that he or she is wrong in characterizing what happened as an assault.

Hearing large statistics and reasons for not reporting should not lead to every college student to live his or her life in fear. What it does mean is that it is important to be educated on what constitutes a sexual assault and what the policies on college campuses are regarding the assault. Largely, policies can be characterized based on the use of the term consent.

Consent can generally be defined as “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.” While this definition may seem all encompassing it is actually extremely broad. Different people describe agreement in different ways (does it need to be verbal consent? Or are non-verbal cues okay too?). Additionally, colleges throughout the country are constantly shifting their policies in order to attempt to provide the most comprehensive definitions for the victim.

So, given all of these considerations, how do I know that I gave/have been given consent?

Yes Means Yes!

In recent years, colleges and universities nationwide have been making a shift from “no means no” policies to more affirmative “yes means yes” policies when it comes to sexual consent.

Trinity College in Hartford, CT is among the estimated 1,500 colleges and universities that have adopted what is known as the “affirmative consent” standard. This standard requires students to consent with a clear indication of “yes,” making the default response (or no response at all) the equivalent of a “no.” Additionally, the state systems in California and New York have affirmative consent standards that are upheld statewide.

The defining features of this affirmative consent policy are that consent must be actively present, continual, conscious and voluntary. If the word “yes” is not used in all of these respects during a sexual encounter, consent is not given.

87.6% of schools have consent definitions that are retrievable from online campus websites, and 93% of schools have sexual assault policies. If you feel as though the “yes means yes” standard has been violated in any given case, the first step is to become familiar with Title IX standards and know that you do have rights.

Sexual Assault Does Not Discriminate

These standards are essential in making a more uniform understanding of what consent is. Differences in initial beliefs about consent vary based on a variety of factors, including gender. According to an article written by the New York Times, “One study found that 61 percent of men say they rely on nonverbal cues — body language — to indicate if a woman is consenting to a sexual act, while only 10 percent of women say they actually give consent via body language (most say they wait to be asked).” The way that men and women who are not educated on the standards view consent is just one difference between the genders.

Another difference is how men and women are treated when it comes to conversations surrounding consent. Male communities, as well as LGBTQ+ communities, are often left out of the dialogue, while focus remains on heterosexual couples. Although 87.6% of all schools have consent definitions online, nearly 40% of majority male schools did not.  Additionally, men and members of the LGBTQ+ community are also likely to be victims of sexual assault. In fact, according to a survey examined by the Huffington Post, 8.6% of male seniors and 39.1% of “TGQN” (those who identified as transgender, genderqueer, non-conforming, questioning, or as something not listed)… said they had experienced some kind of completed unwanted sexual contact.”

It is a good thing that Title IX protections are not limited to a specific gender or sexual orientation. It is important to be informed on not only the safeguards you have, but also on the consent policies of your university. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong following a “yes means yes” standard.

These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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