The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

89° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Sexual assault policy: ‘Oh God, yes’ or ‘No, stop’

    According to The Guardian, students from over 60 schools filed official complaints last year to the federal government about their universities’ response to reported campus crimes, the most common of which were rape cases. Students are demanding their universities improve how they handle rape, such as Emma Sulkowicz, a student from Columbia University who has committed to carrying her mattress around campus until the university prosecutes the peer whom she claims raped her.

    In reaction to this campus rape crisis, California governor Jerry Brown signed SB 967. Called the “Yes Means Yes” Law, it defines sexual assault on California campuses as the absence of continual affirmative consent, or “yes.”

    This replaces the previous standard of “no means no,” where sexual assault was defined as when one party says “no.” The Arizona Board of Regents and the UA recently adopted a policy comparable to “yes means yes.”

    The affirmative consent movement promotes healthier conversations about sex among university students, and more discussion is surely necessary between partners to discourage misunderstandings. But sometimes, the most effective way for that to happen is by saying “no.”

    Part of the ‘yes means yes’ policy involves having continual, clear consent. It implies asking if a partner is okay at each step of the way. While not every person will remember to check continuously — or even be aware they should do so — everyone should have the power to say “no” when they feel uncomfortable. It is harder to pause to check in consistently than to communicate one time that a line has been crossed.

    Under “No Means No,” the partner that feels uncomfortable has the burden of saying “no.” While undoubtedly hard, it’s the only way to be certain that the other person knows they should stop.

    Megan McKendry, the violence prevention specialist for the Oasis Program on campus, disagrees, however.

    “‘Yes means yes’ policies represent an important and positive shift, one that will help combat sexual violence in U.S. campus communities,” McKendry said. “‘No means no’ policies assume that consent is present unless someone physically or verbally resists. Would you assume you could take someone’s wallet if they didn’t say ‘no’ or push you away? Probably not.”

    While McKendry is right that sex should never be something imposed upon a person who does not desire it, sex is not like theft. Sex can be consensual while getting your wallet stolen never is.

    It should not be assumed someone wants sex, but in the hazy back-and-forth of campus hook-up culture, asking for permission multiple times could break the mood or be taken the wrong way.

    The best way to clear things up is saying “no,” and we should encourage a culture that empowers people to say they want to stop.

    This burden should not be one party’s, and a verbal “no” is not the only way to define limits. However, it is less ambiguous than a repeated “yes” and encourages a culture where students feel comfortable communicating clearly about sex.

    The absence of “yes” does not always mean “no,” and the absence of “no” does not mean “yes.”

    But “no” always means “no.” Let’s not confuse a system that needs strengthening with one that needs to be replaced.

    — Julianna Renzi

    I’ve never seen a slope slippier than the one everyone seems to be hurling themselves down over “yes means yes” policies.

    Addressing the issue of campus rape with research, victim and reality based logic should be something to celebrate.

    Instead, no one seems able to fathom what sexual pleasure looks like or understand that rape is a conscious act — not one that happens in a vacuum.

    There’s talk of contracts and waivers, as though suited-up bureaucrats will be waiting to whip out a pen as soon as a student thinks about whipping it out.But affirmative consent laws are not revolutionary or radical. They are the codification of the mindset those within the field of sexual assault prevention, education and even — gasp — those having responsible, respectful sex have held for years. A big problem in most sectors of academia is a discomfort around talking about sex politics: who instigates, who navigates and what that realistically looks like.

    But those in our student body haven’t been provided with enough examples of what they were probably already doing, leading to misconceptions and panic about “gray areas.”

    Even during the quickest quickie, consensual sex does not “just happen”; there are agreements, negotiations and compromises. There are escalations from kissing to oral sex and penetrative sex, each involving a new set of check-ins.

    There’s eye contact and dirty talk. You notice how their body responds to your touch and what sounds they make. Your partner is kissing or touching back. If your safe word is “apple,” they’re saying “orange.”

    Some personalized, agreed-upon version of this — without coercion or incapacitating substances and continuing throughout the sex act — is what “yes means yes” is asking of students.

    But sometimes, during sex, there are ambiguous situations. Maybe there’s a non-incapacitating amount of drugs involved, or you’re complete strangers or you have no idea whether your partner’s look means yes or no.

    That’s when you can speak up: “Are you into this?” “Is this OK?” “Do you want me to stop?” Or if that feels too awkward, even, “Yeah, you like that, don’t you?” or “I want you to tell me how you want it.”

    If the response is silence, you can assume the answer is “no.” “No” can be assumed. “Yes” can’t.

    Many seem horrified by this prospect. It’s too much of a burden to ask people to have a serious, or sexy, conversation during intercourse.

    But, commonality of these exchanges aside, when people consent to having sex, they are already bearing potential burdens. They could contract a sexually-transmitted disease, get pregnant or be humiliated and hurt.

    Consent should come before all of these, not because someone doesn’t want to be called a rapist, but because they care about the safety, comfort and pleasure of the person or people with whom they are engaging in sex.

    And if you see your partner as an object, don’t care about their enjoyment or pain and don’t consider their voice before, during and after sex, you are a rapist, and you deserve punishment.

    Rape isn’t something that “just happens.” Rape is the act of a conscious predator who seeks out vulnerable prey.

    “Yes means yes” exists to close a loophole rapists take advantage of.

    Rape has been idealized into something easy to prosecute. There are rules about what a victim can and cannot be, what an attacker should look like and how those two parties must interact for rape to occur. A huge part of that are the questions: Did you scream, did you punch, did you run, did you say “no”? Was your struggling adequate?

    And if you didn’t “try” hard enough to stop it, the common belief is that some part of you consented.

    But compliance is survival, not consent. Compliance is something studies say 12-50 percent, and sometimes as many as 88 percent, of sexual assault victims will experience through tonic immobility: an unlearned, instinctive state, like playing dead in animals, that is intended to decrease a threat to bodily security.

    These victims will not fight or flee. They will freeze — be incapable of speech, movement and even of maintaining a regular heartbeat.

    And under “no means no” laws, up to one half of university rape victims might not be able to seek recourse for the violence against them, even when that recourse is only, like at the University of Toledo, a $25 fine or, like at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a five- to seven-page reflective essay.

    With our new yes-positive definition of consent, the UA has, in one sense, made awesome, enthusiastic sex a campus policy, and, in another, worked to seal the rifts between what most people believe rape to be and what it actually is.

    Should we be proud of the UA for adopting these laws?

    Oh God, yes!

    — Katelyn Kennon

    More to Discover
    Activate Search