U of M delays 'yes means yes' sexual consent policy

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A new sexual consent policy just days from being implemented at the University of Minnesota is now delayed so the Board of Regents can discuss the changes, the Minnesota Daily reports.

The affirmative consent policy – sometimes referred to as "yes means yes" – is modeled on California’s state law, which requires “an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision” by everyone involved to engage in sexual activity, USA Today reported. The goal is to deter sexual assaults by making it clear what it means to say yes while engaging in sexual contact.

It was nearing the end of a 30-day review period where students and others could give feedback, according to Kimberly Hewitt, the primary contact listed on the policy. The comment period runs through July 16, and would have been implemented shortly after.

On Wednesday, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler agreed to postpone it until September at the request of Board of Regents Chairman Dean Johnson, the Star Tribune reports.

That came after Regent Michael Hsu said he had concerns about legal ramifications, the paper says.

Kaler however defended the policy, calling it "excellent," and said the board's request was "a bit of an overreach but I'm willing to have a conversation," the Minnesota Daily reports.

The Minnesota Student Association had been pushing for a change to the school's sexual assault policies for months, and this past winter worked with school officials to re-evaluate the university’s guidelines on sexual consent, as well as discipline for students who are reported for sexual harassment and assault.

According to U.S. Department of Education data, there were 34 “forcible” on-campus sexual assaults on the U of M’s Twin Cities campus between 2011 and 2013, and an additional 27 similar incidents in on-campus student housing during the same time period.

What does 'yes means yes' mean?

On the policy website, the university lists what factors will be looked at when determining consent.

On the list:

  • It is the responsibility of each person who wishes to engage in the sexual activity to obtain consent.
  • A lack of protest, the absence of resistance and silence do not indicate consent.
  • The existence of a present or past dating or romantic relationship does not imply consent to future sexual activity.
  • Consent must be present throughout the sexual activity and may be initially given, but withdrawn at any time.
  • When consent is withdrawn all sexual activity must stop. Likewise, where there is confusion about the state of consent, sexual activity must stop until both parties consent again.
  • Consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity.

It also says when someone is physically forced or coerced, or there's an incapacitation due to alcohol or drugs, then consent isn't considered obtained.

The Affirmative Consent Project, and advocate for "yes means yes"-type policies, suggests taking a photo with this contract before engaging in sexual activity, or filling out and signing the back. But that's not required as part of the school's new policy.

The change means the U of M would join a rapidly growing list of schools and other institutions redefining sexual assault policies, ditching the “no means no” staple that’s now sometimes criticized as outdated, Inside Higher Ed said.

California became the first state to pass a “yes means yes” law for all its colleges, and more than 800 schools across the U.S. have similar consent policies, including at least three in Minnesota: the University of St. Thomas, Carleton College and Augsburg College, reports note.

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