Friday, September 12, 2014

Communication and "affirmative consent"

Happy day fellows!

(though I am unsure, even after reading the bill, if this is just about teaching students about affirmative consent or if it is making it necessary, so you may see my usage change as I write this)

This past week (OK, a few weeks ago) a bill was passed in the California Senate that would require affirmative consent to engage in sexual activity on college campuses.  "No means no" would become "yes means yes" under this bill, and without consent sexual activity (not clearly defined) could be considered assault or rape. 

Since I started this post, the bill has moved forward.   In California this is now "law" for institutions of higher education that receive public funds. 

I have a few problems with this legislation.  First and foremost is that I think that it's nonsensical.  It basically just makes the program for instructing students on what consent is to make it more explicit in the affirmative.  Followed as it's intended by everyone all the time can make consent far clearer than it can be at times.  There is of course, the real world that we live in, where this doesn't do anything for anyone except muddy the waters about what does and does not constitute sexual assult.

Effective communication is based on the person transmitting the message in such a way that the receiver can clearly understand it.  If a person says "Go through the red door and push the blue button" and in confronted with a room full of doors in varying shades of magenta, the message was not conveyed clearly.  This is the largest problem with communication in general, where the recipient does not necessarily understand the meaning of intent of the message being relayed.  The reason that "no means no" is more effective because it draws a boundary for behavior.  It is unambiguous in it's intent and is a simpler message with less room for confusion.

Affirmative consent is more ambiguous.  Some instruction goes so far as to say that it should be enthusiastic.  Crap.  Very few sexual encounters, even with long term partners are completely free from some emotional distress in some form or another.  That stress or tension is part of what makes the experience more enjoyable.  It's also still boils down to he said/she said as to whether or not consent was given.  This bill includes the "forms of consent" as being non-verbal as well as verbal.  In a rape accusation, how does this help anyone any more?  The accused could still say that they misinterpreted the non-verbal cues that things were OK.  "No" is still clearer and a simpler message. 

I guess when all is said about this legislation it really, at this time, doesn't change a whole lot for anyone.  It's about instruction on campus and not about off campus activities.  Maybe I'm just not seeing the big picture here and this is going to end up being more great or less silly than I think it is.   Who knows.  I disagree with it's premise as a whole and think that over all it will be a non-issue, neither helping or hurting the cause to prevent rapes and assaults on campus, but to some extent I can almost see this increasing false accusations of rape on campus at least in the short term (part of the adjustment period that most rules changes go though before they "settle in" to the more common understanding).

 Follow up article:
 Affirmative consent article via CNN

Original articles:
Washington Post article
Real Clear Politics article
Think Progress article
California Senate Bill

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