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What You Should Know About Affirmative Consent

March 10, 2016 | Written by Dan Margolis

In the past few years, a great deal of attention has been brought to rapes and other sexual crimes that allegedly occur on college campuses. This has led to a movement to institute affirmative consent laws around the country, including in Ohio.

A survey by the Association of American Universities found 23 percent of female college students have reported being a victim of some form of unwanted sexual contact, including kissing, touching and rape, under force or threat of force or while incapacitated. College freshman are at greatest risk, with a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health finding nearly 1 in 5 female freshmen have fallen victim to attempted or completed rape.

However, it should be noted that some of the sexual crimes in the study are due to confusion over the definition of consent. Teaching a unified definition of affirmative consent may help to reduce this confusion and perhaps lower the risk that a male student will be charged with a crime he may not have actually committed. For many, affirmative consent is summed up by the phrase, “yes means yes.” So far only two states, California and New York, have passed affirmative consent laws, but 1400 colleges and universities, including Ohio State, have developed their own guidelines on the measure.

The Ohio State University policy on sexual violence defines consent as “a knowing and voluntary verbal or non-verbal agreement between both parties to participate in each and every sexual act” that only applies to the current sexual encounter and can be withdrawn at any time. Critics of the policy state that it is too strict, especially as touching and kissing may be covered under it. It may also be unrealistic and impractical for two consenting adults to feel they need to stop and ensure continued consent rather than relying on implied consent. This has the potential to cause more confusion and violations rather than actually providing the intended solution.

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