News Law and Policy

California Adopts ‘Yes Means Yes’ Standard of Consent for College Students

Nina Liss-Schultz

California has become the first state to enact a law requiring students at many schools to receive affirmative sexual consent.

Read more of our articles on consent and sexual assault on U.S. college campuses here.

California has become the first state to enact a law requiring students receive affirmative sexual consent. The legislation was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday after being passed unanimously by the state senate and with a large majority in the assembly.

The law, dubbed the “yes means yes” act, will require public colleges and universities, as well as private schools where students receive state grants, adopt an affirmative consent standard when adjudicating sexual assault complaints on campus.

At these schools, consent must be affirmatively and clearly given, either verbally or nonverbally. Silence or a lack of resistance does not constitute consent under the law.

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The California law comes amid heightened scrutiny of how colleges around the country handle sexual assault complaints from students.

The U.S. Department of Education in May released a list of 55 schools currently under investigation for Title IX violations related to sexual assault, including several prestigious California schools. The list has since grown to more than 70 institutions.

Aside from adopting an affirmative consent standard, schools will also be required to institute outreach and education on consent for its students.

Detractors of the state’s “yes means yes” law have charged that it will be difficult to enforce and represents a governmental overreach.

Joe Cohn, legislative policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed that a student would have no way of proving consent “shy of having it videotaped.”

Statistically, false rape reports have proven extremely rare.

“Every student deserves a learning environment that is safe and healthy,” state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), said in a statement on Sunday. “The State of California will not allow schools to sweep rape cases under the rug. We’ve shifted the conversation regarding sexual assault to one of prevention, justice, and healing.”

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