Yes-means-yes should replace no-means-no as the standard for sexual consent -- or the lack of it -- on California's public and private college campuses, the Legislature decided this week.

It sent to the governor Senate Bill 967, which would require all colleges taking student financial aid funding from the state to agree that in investigations of campus sexual assaults, silence or lack of resistance does not imply a green light for sex, and that drunkenness is not an acceptable defense.

"It does change the cultural perception of what rape is," said Sofie Karasek, an activist who has fought for changes in UC Berkeley's practices. "There's this pervasive idea that if it's not super violent then it doesn't really count."

California's unique legislation comes amid a national movement demanding solutions to a problem that has plagued campuses for generations.

In the past two years, a well-organized and savvy network of college students and alumni -- and the U.S. Department of Education -- has challenged colleges to do more to prevent attacks, educate students about consent, support rape victims, and discipline offenders, as federal anti-discrimination laws require.

Gov. Jerry Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign the bill sent to his desk Thursday and generally does not comment beforehand.

"If the governor signs it, this will lead the entire country, the nation," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles.


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"It's very difficult to say no when you're inebriated or someone slips something into your drink," he said.

The "affirmative consent" standard in the bill makes everyone responsible for ensuring in advance -- verbally or non-verbally -- that a sexual act is desired.

The traditional no-means-no standard, the bill's supporters argued, unfairly burdens victims by making them prove they had clearly conveyed that they did not want to have sex, but that it happened anyway.

Twenty years ago, the idea of gaining explicit consent before engaging in sexual activities was considered so extreme it was -- literally -- laughable. Saturday Night Live in 1993 lampooned the consent policy adopted by Ohio's Antioch College with a game show titled "Is It Date Rape?"

"May I elevate the level of sexual intimacy by feeling your buttocks?" the male asks.

"Yes. You have my permission," the woman replies.

Since then, the affirmative approach has gained so much acceptance that many campuses, including private schools such as Santa Clara University, now use a similar standard.

They say the bill, which also requires outreach and prevention programs on assault, dating violence and stalking, would require only a tweak in their policies.

The UC system rewrote its sexual assault policies in the spring to that effect; all three of the state's public college systems back the bill, and no colleges officially opposed it.

The legislation does have its critics. A Los Angeles Times editorial said it would be "extremely difficult and extraordinarily intrusive to micromanage sex so closely as to tell young people what steps they must take in the privacy of their own dorm rooms."

But the bill's proponents say those who think seeking consent is awkward, unrealistic or mood-killing miss the point.

Some say that even if imperfect, the legislation sets an important standard: knowing -- not guessing -- whether your advances are desired.

Follow Katy Murphy at Twitter.com/katymurphy.

WHAT IS AFFIRMATIVE CONSENT?
Senate Bill 967, sponsored by Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, would require California colleges getting student financial aid from the state to have an "affirmative consent" standard when determining whether a sexual assault occurred. It also requires comprehensive outreach programs to prevent rape, dating violence and stalking.
Bill excerpt: " 'Affirmative consent' means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. ... Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. (It) can be revoked at any time."