‘Yes Means Yes’ Law: Good News or Bad News for College Campuses?

The line between what constitutes sexual assault and what does not is a very difficult one to draw. It’s a point some of our more frequent readers may remember us highlighting in a July post where we discussed the problems defining sexual assault was creating for college campuses across the nation, including here in California.

The issue at hand, as we hinted at in the post, was that state legislators needed to better define the term sexual assault so that college campuses could ensure proper reporting. Absent of this clarification, campus administrators ran the risk of violating an accused student’s rights, perhaps even reprimanding a student when no actual crime was committed.

With the approval of the “yes means yes” law recently, California legislators are hoping to provide this much needed clarification. But what impact could this legislation have on college campuses and its students? Will the law really help or will it push colleges into “murky, unfamiliar legal waters?”

Although the law appears to better define sexual assault and seems to clarify when campuses should investigate reports of abuse, some have argued that the new definition “presumes the veracity of accusers … and likewise presumes the guilt of [the] accused …” This further opens colleges up to the possibility of falsely accusing students of sexual assault and violating that student’s rights as well, which was a possibility before the change in the law.

It’s worth pointing out that this law will apply to all colleges and universities in the state of California that currently accept state financial aid. Reports indicate that it could be extended to include both public and private post-secondary schools that also receive state funding in the future.

Source: USA Today, “California adopts ‘yes means yes’ law,” William M. Welch, Sept. 29, 2014

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