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Raul Lieberwirth (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

California shifts burden of proof off college rape victims

California became the first state to pass a bill that redefined consent in sexual encounters from "no means no" to "yes means yes."

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This week, California became the first state to pass a bill that defined consent in sexual encounters on publicly-funded college campuses as, “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” The bill is an attempt to shift the narrative around rape from “no means no” to “yes means yes” in order to clarify that silence and intoxication are not invitations.

Women who are raped are often scrutinized and blamed for how they are dressed, where or when they were walking in public, drinking, not checking if their drink is drugged and even not fighting back enough. (Critics of victim-blaming point out that no one tells men to stop going out at night or to quit drinking to prevent rape). The change from “no means no” to “yes means yes” shifts the burden of preventing rape off the woman or victim and holds those involved responsible for obtaining consent, whether vocal or by an affirmative gesture.

Men’s rights groups reacted to California’s by insisting that those accused of rape are the true victims. One Redditor insisted that, “some men will stop going to college because the environment is now toxic to them.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five women are raped in their lifetime — and one in three of those rapes occur when a women is 18 to 24 years old. The California law is part of a national effort to hold colleges accountable for reporting and ensuring justice for on-campus rape. A Senate report released in June found that 40 percent of U.S. universities have not conducted any investigations into sexual assault, and one in five schools did not investigate all of the reports submitted to the Department of Education.

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