California Legislature Passes “Affirmative Consent” Law

Sexual assaults on college campuses have captured the attention of people across the country in 2014 , including the Obama administration and congress. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released recommendations to diminish the number of sexual assaults on campuses in April 2014, and legislation was introduced in congress to mandate campus climate surveys at colleges and require institutions to post the anonymous results online.[1] While additional movement on the federal level is uncertain, state legislatures are poised to move sexual assault prevention legislation forward.

Policymakers in California had been working to advance a bill which would change the definition of consent for California colleges investigating alleged sexual assaults. Senate Bill 967, sponsored by Senator Kevin De León, requires that college students obtain “affirmative consent” before engaging in sexual activity.[2] Affirmative consent is defined in the language of the legislation as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” and also spells out that “silence, lack of resistance, or an existing relationship does not qualify as consent.”[3]

In addition to providing affirmative consent up front, SB 967 requires affirmative consent to be “ongoing throughout the sexual activity,” meaning that sexual partners must agree to the sexual encounter as it progresses and consent can be retracted at any time.[4] However, one thing the bill leaves out is requiring the affirmative consent to be verbal—the bill’s original language warned that “relying solely on nonverbal communication can lead to misunderstanding,” but that language was removed. The law would apply to all sexual encounters regardless of whether the parties are having a one-night stand or are in a long-term relationship.[5]

Three California universities and one California community college are on the federal Department of Education’s list of 55 institutions under investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual assault complaints. SB 967 was born out of pressure to do better for California students and language in the bill was based on the recommendations by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.[6]

After clearing the Assembly (57-20) on August 25, 2014,[7] SB 967 passed the Senate (36-0) on August 28, 2014.[8] The bill now heads to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown and will become law if it is signed by the end of the state legislative session on September 30, 2014.[9]


[1] Stratford, Michael, “Campus Sex Assaults Draw State Scrutiny,” Inside HigherEd, August 28, 2014, accessed September 2, 2014, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/28/federal-scrutiny-campus-sexual-assaults-spills-states.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Enrolled Bill Text,” Bill Number: SB 967, California State Legislature, accessed September 3, 2014, http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/sen/sb_0951-1000/sb_967_bill_20140902_enrolled.html.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Sullivan, Gail, “California bill defines what it means to say ‘yes’ to sex,” The Washington Post, August 29, 2014, accessed September 2, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/08/29/california-bill-defines-what-it-means-to-say-yes-to-sex/?tid=hp_mm.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Unofficial Ballot, Bill Number: SB 967, California State Legislature, accessed September 3, 2014, http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/sen/sb_0951-1000/sb_967_vote_20140825_0422PM_asm_floor.html.

[8] Unofficial Ballot, Bill Number: SB 967, California State Legislature, accessed September 3, 2014, http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/sen/sb_0951-1000/sb_967_vote_20140828_0357PM_sen_floor.html.

[9] Holpuch, Amanda, “California bill demands college students get 'affirmative consent' before sex,” The Guardian, August 30, 2014, accessed September 2, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/30/california-sexual-assault-affirmative-consent-bill.

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