Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Sexual assault “Yes Means Yes” legislation necessary in understanding consent and the accused

Here at The Daily Free Press and, in many cases, at Boston University in general, it seems as though we are constantly sitting down to talk about sexual assault. We’ve done so with regard to letters to the editor, sexual assault cases in Greek life and, most recently, BU’s sexual misconduct survey. But we wouldn’t be talking about it if the issue weren’t so prominent in the media and in our own lives. And so, here we are again.

California became the first state to approve “Yes Means Yes” legislation Oct. 1, which requires that high schools teach affirmative consent as a part of curriculum in health education classes throughout the state. This includes “explaining that someone who is drunk or asleep cannot grant consent,” the Associated Press and The New York Times reported. California was also the first state to require “colleges to use affirmative consent as the standard in campus disciplinary decisions, defining how and when people agree to have sex” in an effort to improve the way rape and assault are treated on campus. However, while affirmative consent must be taught in schools, there is no legislative requirement for affirmative consent to be proven in court cases regarding sexual assault.

The New York Times published a piece Wednesday profiling a San Francisco high school teacher and her class who were tasked with coming up with ways to ask for consent from their sexual partners. Most of them felt awkward about the exercise, having never had sexual experiences before. The students riddled the teacher with questions, asking if and when consent needs to be given. She told them that no matter the situation, when the next step is taken in a sexual relationship, a “yes” must be given. Plain and simple. But the Times called the policy “tricky,” in that the students are taught affirmative consent but there is really no way to implement proof of consent into court cases regarding the issue.

The fact is that many people in California, and in all other states in the United States, may not even understand what affirmative consent is. But teaching inexperienced students isn’t a bad way for people to start learning. Even as the students brainstormed potentially awkward ways to ask for and give consent, the act of asking and giving in the heat of the moment can’t really be rehearsed. All in all, the teaching may be more progressive than the students learning it, especially because those students and people like those students still feel subjected to so many unanswered questions. Can two drunk people give consent to each other? Or, a frequently asked question according to the Times, what if at the time it seems okay, but then in the morning one party decides they didn’t want it?

That being said, the education campaign is one that must be executed fully. In five years, are we going to require people to have handwritten statements of consent? Of course not. It seems unlikely that we will ever find a way to prove affirmative consent between two people who had a sexual relationship. The your-word-over-mine nature of these encounters is too arbitrary to ignore, and requiring an implementation of proof of affirmative consent would be near impossible. But if we teach that consent cannot be given when someone is under the influence, we can start to tell a new generation that consent cannot possibly be given unless both parties are in the right mind and are able to verbally tell each other that the next steps being taken sexually are okay.

Therefore, education is the most valuable tool here. Some may argue that there isn’t a point to California’s “Yes Means Yes” legislation, but what’s the alternative? Although it seems near impossible to prove that there was affirmative consent in a sexual encounter, education is the start to making kids and teens aware of what affirmative consent actually is. Perhaps if we are taught from a young age to be respectful of each others’ bodies, then the need for proof of affirmative consent won’t be necessary — in other words, perhaps there won’t be so many court cases in which affirmative consent must be proven.

But according to a Thursday article from NPR, some men believe they aren’t being given the chance to even address affirmative consent once they are accused. Because they are required to prove consent was given — which, as we have said, is nearly impossible — they feel guilty until proven innocent. And there is seemingly no way, to them at least, to prove innocence. “Once you are accused, you’re guilty,” a BU student told NPR on Thursday.

Male students are claiming that a bias against them has resulted in unfair trials in which the accused are not able to submit potential evidence in sexual assault cases. One student at the University of California, San Diego, was accused of sexually assaulting a friend, and in his hearing at the school he attempted to submit text messages as evidence that would have proven that the woman had given consent to the sexual relationship. The submission of the text messages was denied, and the student lost his hearing because he couldn’t prove consent. Later, Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman said, “the hearing against petitioner was unfair,” NPR reported.

It is likely true that some of men who are accused of sexual assault aren’t guilty. But this arguably wouldn’t be an issue if students were taught to cover all of their bases, so to speak. It isn’t difficult to be a decent person. It isn’t difficult to realize that if a person is drunk, you shouldn’t have sex with them, because they aren’t in the right state of mind to give you consent. Herein we tie back to the question of, “what if one person says it’s okay, but decides in the morning they didn’t want it?” It’s simple, really: no matter how many times a person may say something is okay, no one is able to give consent when they are drunk. Period. And if this “Yes Means Yes” legislation begins teaching this fact in the tenth grade when it really starts to matter, then the government is doing its job. We need to learn to play it safe. We need to teach that if you shouldn’t drive a car when you’re drunk, as it could change your life in ways you never imagined, the same goes for sexual conduct.

A few anecdotal stories from wrongly accused male students aren’t going to make us change our minds about these issues. According to NPR, 50 complaints from accused students have been filed this year. But the anecdotes that aren’t supported by statistics don’t help these male students’ cause — rather, they again perpetuate a feeling of victim blaming. Men have to worry about being accused of rape, but women have to worry about being raped. There is an obvious fear here that men who are accused will always have a tainted reputation, whether they are guilty or completely innocent. There’s such an intense fear of having your life ruined if you are wrongly accused, and we understand that fear is real.

And that is why it is so important that schools and colleges give everyone a chance for fair trial. All evidence must be submitted and everyone must have a chance to say his or her piece — it’s only fair in the grand scheme of democracy in this country. Because proof of affirmative consent can’t possibly be required, therefore, it’s necessary that all those accused be able to present their cases. We would rather see someone falsely accused than see someone avoid coming forward for fear of retribution for wrongly accusing someone.

There may be a bias against the accused in some situations, but the bias against the accuser is often much more prominent and real. Even here at BU, students who were convicted of sexual assault in their hearings are pardoned and allowed back on campus with even one appeal. We can’t say that there is a clear bias against the accused when even those who are proven guilty are so easily allowed to roam free, with no expulsion in sight.

Our phones buzzed with emails and texts Sunday morning with a BU Alert message informing students about a reported sexual assault at 33 Harry Agganis Way. Amazingly, it took us by surprise — many of us hadn’t ever seen an emergency text from BU alerting us about sexual assault on campus. Most of them pertain to fires or police activity in certain areas or alleged off campus assaults. But none have ever so blatantly described a threat like this.

Perhaps this shows that we are headed in the right direction in terms of schools’ reactions to sexual assault. There is no bias being shown in either direction here — a woman reported her assault and the school is looking to find the alleged perpetrator. Only time will tell how the school will effectively handle the situation, but the timeliness of emergency alert seems to be a positive sign.

All roads lead back to education here. If “Yes Means Yes” influences students to act responsibly and colleges and universities to maintain fairness in all sexual assault cases, then by all means, let’s start implementing this legislation into every state education system.

27 Comments

  1. “We would rather see someone falsely accused than see someone avoid coming forward for fear of retribution for wrongly accusing someone.”

    “It is better to risk saving a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one.” (Voltaire )

  2. Disgusting sexism against men from the Dailyfreepress!!!!

  3. What an obnoxiously stupid article. I hope the author feels ashamed one day for writing this.

  4. “We would rather see someone falsely accused than see someone avoid coming forward for fear of retribution for wrongly accusing someone.”

    You are saying that someone knowingly and maliciously making false accusations should be protected by the system. There is no other way to parse that statement. It is completely incompatible with the ideals of justice, and I am baffled that you would print it. Perhaps you got carried away in your zeal to protect students and forgot about the lives you would destroy in the process, like Rep. Jared Polis D-CO did a few weeks ago. If that is the case, the right thing to do now is to print a correction disavowing that statement, again like Rep. Polis did.

  5. As an alumnus (COM ’88), I just want to thank you for giving me yet another reason to tell the university to go f— themselves when they ask me to financially contribute to your student experience. That an institution of higher learning would throw due process out the window in favor of what we used to call personal responsibility is deplorable and pathetic. I hope you all find yourselves falsely accused at least once before you graduate.

  6. Its like putting conviction of a man on the mood women has in her hungover state the next morning. Its time Men, to be MGTOW.

  7. “We would rather see someone falsely accused than see someone avoid coming forward for fear of retribution for wrongly accusing someone.”

    But there SHOULD be retribution for WRONGLY accusing someone. You do not get to play with people’s lives like that. Rape is serious and tragic, and it should not happen to anyone. But don’t you DARE say it is okay to pin that crime on SOMEONE WHO DID NOT DO IT. You ruin their lives merely by ACCUSING THEM. F— YOU.

  8. “It’s simple, really: no matter how many times a person may say something is okay, no one is able to give consent when they are drunk.” I realize you are just undergraduates, not law students, and so perhaps your ignorance is forgiveable. The law is that sex without consent is rape. In some circumstances, the law, acting as patriarch, deprives women of agency and says that they cannot legally consent to sex. It does this to protect them because those particular women are too weak and feeble to decide for themselves. Retarded women and minors fall into this category – the law says they cannot lawfully consent to sex. The law also extends its patriarchical protection to women who are so intoxicated that they can’t tell what they are doing. The law looks to external evidence of this extreme intoxication – vomiting, stumbling, falling asleep – and it labels this degree of extreme intoxication as “incapacitation.” But short of extreme inoxication, drunk adults (male or female) can consent to sex, and do, every day, all over the United States, by the millions. This law makes eminent sense, by the way, because the alternative is not going to be to throw millions into jail, but instead to hand a very small number of women with regrets the power to retroactively label an activity in which they happily engaged as sexual assault. That would be unjust to say the least.

  9. In our lifetimes, I expect we will see these editors goose stepping along the boulevard.

  10. The best way to fight back against horrible ideas like this is to make them sting.

    A female student should accuse the entire male staff of this newspaper of raping them. They have no problem at all with men being falsely accused of rape, so I’m sure they will take their years in prison with good humor.

  11. Is the following scenario believable: Mike DeSocio , Joe Incollingo, J.D. Capelouto ,Mina Corpuz, Katie Aramento, Justin Pallenik ,Olivia Nadel ,Samantha Gross, Sonia Rao, DeeDee Hughes, and Katelyn Pille chartered a plane last weekend, came to my town and forcibly raped me. There were no witnesses. Do not allow them to provide any evidence or alibis. If I ‘felt’ violated, then I must have retaliation. I don’t know which is scarier: that your writer sourced information from NPR as factual, that justice holds no value to you, or that y’all might actually graduate, influence policy, and procreate.

  12. John Adams was well known for providing a successful court defense for the accused criminals in the Boston Massacre that the general Boston public was ready to lynch in your city over 200 hundred years. It seems that the editors of this paper have similar opinions on the lack of importance of protecting the innocent that the mob back then had.

    John Adams said “It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished. But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, ‘whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,’ and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.”

  13. Does anybody still have any questions why the profession of journalism is dead in America.

    I hope you children aren’t running up too huge of a debt pursuing your journalism degree. Serving coffee doesn’t pay that much.

  14. One of my kids is a alumnus of BU.
    Going through today’s mail, there is yet another letter from BU asking for money.
    Never again.

  15. The entire editorial board of this newspaper should be replaced.

  16. This position is further proof that the ultimate purpose of these campus crusades is to provide women with a handy tool to damage men, all dressed up like a necessary effort to protect women who are so weak-minded that they cannot be expected to act or decide on their own behalf after a few drinks. No, it’s the men with them that, even after a few drinks, are required to own those women’s decisions. This is also strong evidence that the left abhors the most basic principles on which our system of government and justice is based and are working to, essentially, reverse the results of the American Revolution.

  17. “We would rather see someone falsely accused than see someone avoid coming forward for fear of retribution for wrongly accusing someone.”

    Wow. Does your expensive education teach you about China in the 1960s? You assume that a false accusation will simply sort itself out. But it doesn’t–it could ruin the accused’s life.
    This editorial board are not just clowns, but dangerous clowns.

  18. May it be the members of the editorial board accused by insecure vengeful lying females. May you be branded, traumatized and all but destroyed… for the greater good of course.

  19. The answer to this “problem” is simple: neither the government nor university administrations should have any business butting into intimate relationships between adults — and 18 year olds are adults (we hope). If and when anyone is raped or otherwise assaulted, he or she should report it to the police and the criminal justice system will handle it.

  20. You know in the Jim Crow south that argument was really common

  21. I think all of these fellow commenters, people who are reacting on Twitter and the article written by the Washington Examiner about this article is missing the point. While I disagree with the statement that everyone has had a problem with that is not what this article is about. When it comes down to it – men and women shouldn’t take advantage of other people regardless of the person’s mental capacity at the time. The reason that it seems like every week there is a new article on the FreeP’s website, on the evening news or on the cover of the New York Times is because sexual assaults are far to prevalent in our society. If sexual assaults were to stop happening or even stop happening at such a high frequency then we wouldn’t have legislation like “Yes Means Yes” or discussions like this one.

  22. “You know in the Jim Crow south that argument was really common”

    Then why is anyone surprised that Democrats still use the same playbook?

    From the Plantation to the Collective, they’re always the Party of Slavery.

  23. You all should be ashamed.

    Mike DeSocio — Editor-in-Chief
    Joe Incollingo — Managing Editor

    J.D. Capelouto — Campus Editor
    Mina Corpuz — City Editor
    Katie Aramento — Editorial Page Editor
    Justin Pallenik — Sports Editor
    Olivia Nadel — Photo Editor
    Samantha Gross — Multimedia Editor
    Sonia Rao — Features Editor
    DeeDee Hughes — Blog Editor
    Katelyn Pilley — Layout Editor

  24. This article should provide ample evidence of an atmosphere of bias purposely permeated against males and females accused of sex crimes, (or ‘anything’ for that matter.) Hopefully it’s going to show up in a lawsuit against the college in which the editors are individually named as plaintiffs. I mean, “freedom of the press” be damned! What’s the loss of a little ‘first amendment’ when dealing with an issue as important as this eh?

  25. Sex is for adults. American college students are children, clueless about history and the law. They should not be having sex, especially the girls who have an infantile IQ and cannot utter a two letter word “No”.

  26. “It is likely true that some of men who are accused of sexual assault aren’t guilty. But this arguably wouldn’t be an issue if students were taught to cover all of their bases, so to speak. It isn’t difficult to be a decent person. It isn’t difficult to realize that if a person is drunk, you shouldn’t have sex with them, because they aren’t in the right state of mind to give you consent. ”

    It’s true that some men are falsely accused, but this wouldn’t be a problem if they’d “covered their bases” and didn’t sleep with drunk people.

    This is what feminists refer to as victim blaming. You are so convinced that all men are rapists that even those you acknowledge are falsely accused are at fault to you.

    Equality, yo.

  27. To the authors,
    So you would rather see real victims hide in shame and have a bunch of bogus rape claims from false accusers? Rape victims are not going to come forward with this ignorant and bigoted ideology defending sociopaths. You are setting back the efforts of those who worked tirelessly to destigmatize victims and you are actively turning rape into a joke. False accusers do not help anyone under any circumstance, so they should be condemned and not praised like what you have done. Do you really want a future where rape victims are not believed by anyone and to be thought of as liars with a sick vendetta? If you can say false accusations are okay, then you are saying that you really don’t care about victims of rape and that all you care about is being with the trendy in crowd.