A New Jersey lawmaker wants state funding for colleges and universities linked to making “affirmative consent” the standard for judging whether sex is consensual.
A bill introduced by Senator Jim Beach, D-Camden, last week follows a similar law passed in California last month.
The aim of the legislation is to move away from a “no means no” culture by requiring verbal consent to prove that sex is consensual during investigations of campus sexual assault.
“We have to change the discussion about what constitutes sexual assault, particularly on college campuses where it is so pervasive,” Beach said.
“This will begin to change the culture of acceptance of sexual activity under certain circumstances, such as when students are intoxicated, and create an environment in which clear affirmative consent is the standard.”
The bill spells out that a victim being too drunk or high to consent is not a valid defense for the accused.
“Too much of the burden of proof falls on the victim, and I think that that is extremely unfortunate, and quite frequently victims do not come forward because of it,” Beach said.
Rowan University Chief Equity Compliance Officer Johanna Velez-Yelin, who oversees sexual assault cases at the university, said anything that brings attention to the need to do something about sexual violence on campus is a good thing.
But she cautioned the bill would be difficult to enforce.
“How do you investigate whether there was an affirmative verbal consent given by the parties? ” Velez-Yelin said.
“It is a big challenge because these incidents usually happen in a very private setting and it’s not always possible to go around asking a few people ‘were you there? Did you hear it?'”
Determining consent is already a major part of campus sexual assault investigations under federal Title IX law, Velez-Yelin said.
The bill would tie state funds to schools adopting “victim-centered” policies on sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.
Lawmakers in New Hampshire and New York are considering similar standards.