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Calif. Law Requires 'Affirmative Consent' To Combat Sexual Assault

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

California is the first to define when yes means yes in a new law aimed at reducing sexual assaults on college campuses. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill yesterday. It requires schools to have an affirmative consent policy. That means a student needs, in the words of the law, an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement from a partner to engage in sexual activity. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez of member station KPCC reports, some schools already have similar policies.

ADOLFO GUZMAN-LOPEZ, BYLINE: This training video called "Think About It" is the main tool Occidental College uses to teach students about consent during sex.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: While taking "Think About It," you'll earn points and if you do well, badges, too. If you've earned a badge, be sure to clock on it to earn additional points.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: It's a two-hour mandatory, online training complete with stylized images of students at parties, in dorms and wearing backwards baseball caps.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Earning all badges will unlock the super-ultra, awesome badge of awesomeness.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: At Occidental, where students have to live in dorms the first two years, the university expects ongoing consent during sex. Forget the idea that you can infer consent from silence. You must hear the magic word, yes. Senior Kathryn Arnett has taken the training two years in a row.

KATHRYN ARNETT: I mean, I think it was informative, and I kind of enjoyed going through the process. I think that it could have been a lot more boring.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: Her friend Vanessa Zendejas is also a senior. She says as goofy as the video may be, the college's extra attention to defining consent is paying off.

VANESSA ZENDEJAS: I feel like consent is definitely something that's like - I don't know - it's more considered, and it's almost kind of like, if you aren't considering it, then it's definitely questionable.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: But affirmative consent doesn't have to be explicit says sophomore Alitzel Tamayo and her friend Thea Dery. She says the conversations go something like this.

ALITZEL TAMAYO: I don't know. Let me read this.

THEA DERY: Saying is like this okay with you?

TAMAYO: Saying like are you good? Are you good? (Laughter) Are you good with this?

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: National concerns over college sexual assault are prompting these conversations at this and many other colleges. California State Senator Kevin de Leon of the new state law that requires all California colleges and universities to compel its students to ask for affirmative consent.

KEVIN DE LEON: As a father of a college-age daughter, I was stunned. I was quite shocked to learn that 1 out of 5 women are sexually assaulted during their time in college. And this is frankly unacceptable.

O'CONNOR: This is almost like the wish list of a parent who is worried in sending their daughter, quite frankly, off to college.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: Michael O'Connor is a law professor at the University of LaVerne, east of Los Angeles. He says codifying ongoing, affirmative consent into a state law is unrealistic. It's just not how people behave.

O'CONNOR: In your most intimate relationships, do you normally verbalize explicitly that you are giving permission to engage in a particular sexual activity? And do you maintain that consent verbally, along the way, while sex is ongoing?

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: However, students at Occidental say ongoing affirmative consent is happening. Alitzel Tamayo says as much when she's been asked are you good with this?

TAMAYO: It's vague but it lets you interpret it the way you want to. Then you can then again go in and be like no. And then get the more specific or yes or whatever.

GUZMAN-LOPEZ: And that's the communication challenge, unwrapping that whatever to make sure no one gets hurt. For NPR News, I'm Adolfo Guzman-Lopez in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.