On Sep. 29, 2014, The New York Times published an article entitled, "California Law on Sexual Consent Pleases Many but Leaves Some Doubters."
The Times article sheds light on what many regard as an epidemic of campus sexual assaults.
While some colleges across the country are cracking down on binge drinking, and fraternities, others are training incoming students not to be passive bystanders, and instead to take action when they observe signs of trouble.
In the past year, many schools have adopted a new approach, which has been a subject of question and controversy. Many schools are now requiring "affirmative consent" before sexual contact. California was the first state to pass a law that requires that every college have a consent policy, otherwise schools will lose state financial aid.
While advocates support the movement, many college administrators are uncertain as to whether it will work better than other methods. At a time when campus sexual assaults are receiving attention from politicians, including President Obama, in practice, colleges have little hard data to work with and are relying on time-tested methods such as relying on instinct and anecdote to address campus sexual assaults.
"In a lot of places, there is little to no evidence behind the measures being taken," said Jane Stapleton, a researcher who advises colleges on sexual assault policies, and the co-director of the Prevention Innovations program at the University of New Hampshire.
Under California's law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, colleges must require "affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." This means that consent to one type of contact cannot be understood as consent for another, thus an encounter that starts with kissing and progresses to intercourse would require not one go ahead, but several.
In the past year, several colleges and universities, including Yale and many campuses of the State University of New York have adopted affirmative consent policies. While this strategy is becoming more accepted and gaining traction, campus safety experts say that it is too new and is lacking adequate studies to measure its effectiveness.
Those colleges that have implemented policies similar to California's have incorporated them into student orientations, which have led to students grumbling over romantic trysts turning into an awkward series of requests.
"I don't think policy by itself tends to make a huge difference in behavior," said Dr. Foubert, a professor of higher education and student affairs at Oklahoma State University. "Colleges also say you can't drink until you're 21, and there's rampant drinking."
"There's still so much we don't know, because there isn't nearly enough data," said Ms. Stapleton, of the University of New Hampshire. "This is still in its infancy."
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