Senate sets affirmative-consent standard for campus sex assaults

The Senate voted overwhelmingly late Tuesday to establish an affirmative-consent threshold in cases of sexual assault on all college and university campuses in Connecticut.

The measure, which passed 34-1 and now heads to the House of Representatives, does not create new criminal laws or sanctions.

Rather, an institution’s disciplinary board must identify that an unambiguous and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity was provided in order to find that the actions were consensual.

The bill also requires colleges and universities to advise all students and employees about the affirmative consent standard. The University of Connecticut, the University of New Haven and Yale University already have established such a standard.

“This is about changing the conversation,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, one of the bill’s chief proponents. “Instead of asking the victim, ‘Why did you get drunk? Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you fight back? Why did you wear a short skirt?’ Instead the onus is on the assailant.”

Flexer said victims of sexual assault often may not resist out of fear or shock. “It also can be a challenge to make a complaint with the police, because they become public,” she added.

The bill, which would take effect on July 1, also stipulates that:

  • It is the responsibility of each person to ensure that he or she has obtained affirmative consent before engaging in sexual activity.
  • The existence of a prior dating relationship or sexual activity does not constitute affirmative consent.
  • The affirmative consent requirement is not waived because the victim was intoxicated, unconscious, asleep or unable to communicate because of a mental or physical condition.

If the measure is enacted, Connecticut would become the second state, after California, to establish such a standard at all higher education institutions.

Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said the bill is “an example of government overreaching.”

Markley said it is inconsistent to apply one standard to two college students, “but not to other people of the same age engaging in the same activities who don’t happen to be in college.”

But Flexer said colleges and universities are “a unique community” with higher-than-average rates of sexual violence. “It is a privilege to be there, and students are held to a higher code of conduct.”

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