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‘Affirmative consent’ is still in a gray area

nesota should be applauded for trying to be more proactive in preventing campus sexual assaults. Statistics say one in five women on college campuses are the victim of some form of sexual assault. Any effort to reduce that statistic is welcome.
The University of Minnesota recently proposed an “affirmative assent” policy — in effect, each partner in a potential sexual encounter must provide a verbal “yes” or some other clear symbol before engaging in a sexual act.
That type of policy would, hopefully, encourage students to thoughtfully consider what they are about to do. However, that is often not the case. Immaturity, often coupled with alcohol or other factors, lead to less-than-desirable behavior.
And the reality is that any sexual impropriety between two people will be judged on a “he-said, she-said” basis, unless there were witnesses to testify otherwise. It all comes down to burden of proof: did he or she say yes or no? Either party can allege that there was “affirmative assent” or that there was not.
Within the past couple of years, California and New York have approved such policies for colleges. Antioch College adopted the standard more than 20 years ago.
It would be interesting to see if there has been a reduction in sexual assaults at the colleges and universities that have adopted the policy and standard.
We do encourage any type of policy or statement that encourages college students to think twice before engaging in any type of harmful behavior — sexual or otherwise.
However, we do feel the “affirmative assent” policy will be difficult to enforce, and that the University of Minnesota was wise to step back and reconsider the policy and its potential impact on both the victim and the accused. And, hopefully, the discussion will give rise to other options for reducing the incidence of sexual assault on campuses.