State sexual assault law goes into effect

Jeffrey Chang/HIGHLANDER
Jeffrey Chang/HIGHLANDER

State law SB 967, meant to address issues of sexual assault and violence, has gone into effect at the beginning of 2015. Commonly called “Yes means yes,” the bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2014 and requires new policies on consent across all public and private universities.

The most prominent feature of the legislation is an affirmative consent standard, which defines consent as “conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” This requires all parties to give mutual consent that can be revoked at any time.

Many campuses have come under fire in recent years for their alleged mishandlings of sexual assault cases. In response, many students across college campuses have rallied for improvements on existing sexual assault legislation, including a better definition of sexual consent in the law.

UCR students have also expressed their desire for policy changes by taking action on a campus level. In late October 2014, UCR students joined campuses across the country in the “Carry That Weight” campaign against sexual assault and violence. In addition, a gender studies requirement which was passed by the ASUCR senate last May is currently going through the administrative academic approval process.

In the most recent crime statistics of 2013, UCR recorded six sexual assaults, which is lower than many other campuses in the UC system. However, the reports may be inaccurate as survivors of assaults are less likely to file complaints, according to a recent White House report.

ASUCR Senator Summer Shafer expressed her support for the law “because of the clarity it brings to what consent is,” she said. “UCR and college campuses need a more long-term and sustainable solution, like this law, to make sure that we are constantly encouraging consent culture.”

Currently, the campus offers many resources about preventing sexual assault. All registered student organizations are required to attend a retreat each year in the HUB, where they are given a presentation about sexual assault. In addition, the Women’s Resource Center provides other resources such as through Sexual Assault and Violence Education, a peer mentor group that aims to prevent sexual violence.

The university has also responded to student concerns about the portrayal of women, who are often victims of sexual assault. Last year, university officials rebranded the women’s studies department the gender and sexuality studies department in a move to create a more inclusive atmosphere for discussions about sexuality and feminism. The department will also expand in the areas of sustainability, health studies and trans studies.

Dr. Marguerite Waller, a chair for the UCR gender and sexuality studies department, said outreach representatives from the Riverside Rape Crisis Center regularly present in WMST 001 as a way of bringing up discussions about sexual assault.

In addition, Waller also described the importance of creating more awareness of sexual assault. “We make available to all students as much information as possible about resources both on and off campus, but it is important to address the systems and forces that underlie sexual assault,” she said.

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