The Affirmative Consent Project, which advocates for “yes means yes” sexual consent policies, has been distributing “consent contracts” to college students across the country.
The contract states in big red letters: “YES! We agree to have SEX!” (emphasis original), and asks participants to take a photo together holding the contract. If a camera can’t be found, then the participants would need to fill out the form included on the back of the contract.
The group provided the Washington Examiner with an image of the form, which simply states that on this date (fill-in-the-blank) “We agree to have consensual sex with one another.” The form also provides spaces for two parties to sign and print their names.
Even that probably wouldn’t be enough of a defense against an accusation, when all an accuser has to do is say she was too drunk to consent to the photo or the sexual activity. And remember, if the handwriting on the back is noticeably slurred by both parties (meaning the accused was also too drunk to consent) it doesn’t matter, only the accuser’s word matters.
The contract comes as part of a ” Consent Conscious Kit,” which also includes a pen (to sign the contract, duh), breath mints and a condom. The kit comes in either a canvas or faux suede bag with the group’s logo — the male and female gender symbols combined at the circle.
Alison Berke Morano, who helped found the Project, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that “yes means yes” policies have spread “faster than I’ve seen other movements.”
Morano made the comment in response to the University of Minnesota’s adoption of the “yes means yes” policies.
Kimberly Hewitt, who investigates sexual assault accusations at U of M as part of her position as vice president of equal opportunity and affirmative action, told the Tribune that these policies help clarify “complex” situations.
“Most sexual assault investigations that we do … are complicated,” Hewitt said. “It’s a college campus, so in many cases there’s alcohol involved. People may or may not be in a relationship. … They’re all individual, and they’re all really complex.”
The solution advocates have proposed has been to vastly expand what constitutes sexual assault under “yes means yes” policies, and shift the burden of proof from an accuser to the accused. This turns the criminal justice system upside down, and gives the accused no way to defend themselves outside of a video tape. Because how else can you prove that one did receive a “yes” at every stage of sexual activity when the other person is saying no such consent was given?
Morano’s group appears to be on the extreme side of “yes means yes.” Her website provides links and information about “yes means yes” policies, including the notion that “Consent is to be determined from the perspective of the complainant.” This effectively removes any defense, because an accuser who said “yes” could turn around and say he or she didn’t really mean it or said it out of fear. With the burden of proof shifted on to the accused, and the adoption of the low “preponderance of evidence” standard (meaning adjudicators have to be just 50.01 percent sure the accusation is credible) there would be no way to defend oneself from an accusation.
Morano’s group also links prominently (in the first section of what “affirmative consent” actually means) to a description from the San Gabriel Valley/Whittier chapter of the National Organization for Women. This chapter states that the “only ‘yes’ is a ‘yes.’ ” And given that the policies claim consent can’t be ambiguous, a clear, verbal “yes” does seem to be the only acceptable response.
But the SGVW group goes further, claiming “yes means yes” policies ensure “it’s the man’s responsibility to ‘get a verbal yes.’ ” Their interpretation of the law — which so far appears to be the accepted interpretation at colleges and universities across the country — is that women can only give consent and men can only obtain consent. Far from bringing the sexes together and knocking down gender walls, this interpretation reinforces persistent stereotypes — that women are never the aggressors and that men always want sex.
In addition, the SGVW group states plainly: ” Under the Affirmative Consent Standard, a drunk woman cannot consent to sex, because her judgment is incapacitated by alcohol.” (Emphasis original.)
This group’s interpretation of “yes means yes” policies perfectly dovetails with what critics are saying about the law’s consequences — so much so it could have been a parody. But it is indeed a project of a NOW chapter.
This is why these policies are ill-advised. They make defending the wrongly accused nearly impossible and empower false accusers.