As many students on campus can recall, the University of Connecticut, like many colleges around the country, has had a difficult year handling sexual assault resulting in bad publicity and Title IX lawsuits. Many states, like California, have decided to take the conversation about consent into the state legislature by adopting “Yes Means Yes” bills.
Connecticut has followed suit, with state Senator Mae Flexer (D-Killingly) and state Representative Gregory Haddad (D-Mansfield) co-sponsoring Senate Bill 636. Flexer considers this bill to be a followup to a bill passed last year, saying to WTNH News 8 , “That [previous] bill required colleges to offer sexual assault prevention programming that defined ‘consent’ in sexual relationships but left it up to each institution of higher education to come up with a definition. What we’re saying today is, let’s be clear, let’s be consistent, and let’s change the conversation from ‘no means no’ to ‘yes means yes.’”
“Yes Means Yes” bills have drawn praise from many feminist and sex positive movements because it changes the attitude victims face in the court room. Victims will no longer be put on trial to be asked whether they protested, resisted, or spoke up during the assault. Instead the burden is on the instigator to ask for and receive consent, which the bill explicitly defines as an “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” It changes the culture surrounding sex on college campus and will allow more victims to come forward instead of questioning if they did say no or not.
According the Hartford Courant, many universities have already adopted this definition for consent, including UConn in 2002. However, by adopting it on a statewide level, there is an extra weight behind the decision. As reported by Yale Daily News, Haddad said, “Having a clear standard of consent and educating students about that standard and making that standard consistent across universities in Connecticut … will all lead to a better understanding of what sexual assaults are.” This will impact how consent is taught and understood on college campuses and contribute to better education on the subject.
Both Flexer and Haddad represent districts tied very much to the Storrs community and attribute their introduction of the bill to issues at the university over this past year. New York and Maryland are also debating similar bills in their states.