The number of reported sexual assaults on college campuses has been on the rise in recent years, and universities nationwide are being urged to implement new policies to address the issue. State lawmakers are also considering legislation that could shift the burden of proof onto college students accused of sexual assault.
New Jersey is the latest state to consider a so-called “yes means yes” policy requirement for college campuses. Such a policy would standardize affirmative consent — a voluntary, conscious agreement — between college students before they have sex.
One of the goals of the proposal is to promote open communication between potential sexual partners. However, the move to standardize affirmative consent is nonetheless controversial. If “yes means yes” becomes policy, then an instance of consensual sex could later be seen as non-consensual if the parties forgot to make an affirmative agreement. If a student is falsely accused of sexual assault after forgetting that affirmative consent is needed, then the heavy burden of proving consent is shifted onto the accused.
Still, affirmative consent measures are making headway in a number of states, including New York and California. The bill being considered in New Jersey would prevent colleges and universities from receiving state funds if the schools fail to implement a “yes means yes” standard. As of Nov. 23, the proposal had not been officially considered by a committee in the state legislature.
College students accused of sexual assault face the possibility of jail time, fines and loss of financial aid. The long-term consequences of a conviction may also include reputation damage, difficulty in finding employment and the requirement to register as a sex offender. With the stakes so high, it is important that accused young people take steps as soon as possible to mount a strong criminal defense.