• Tue. May 28th, 2024

Students push for affirmative consent policy on campus

As more and more U.S. universities adopt the battle cry “yes means yes” to quell incidents of campus sexual assault, some students are advocating that Sinclair’s policy should include the concept of affirmative consent as well. 

Late last year, California brought the issue of affirmative consent to the national forefront with the new university sexual assault law, SB 927. This legislation requires that all colleges receiving state funds for student financial aid must adopt a “yes means yes” policy, where consent is defined as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary.”

California’s SB 927 also details that silence and lack of resistance no longer constitute consent and that neither a relationship (romantic or otherwise) nor history of past sexual activity imply tacit consent. According to the New York Times, a similar definition is being adopted within New York, due to increased pressure by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Sinclair’s current policy surrounding sexual assault does not include a definition of affirmative consent. Instead, in Sinclair’s 2014 Annual Security Report, sexual assault is defined as “an offense classified as a forcible or nonforcible sex offense under the uniform crime reporting system of the FBI.”

Under the Jeanne Clery Act, the term, ‘forcible,’ means “any sexual act directed against another person, without the consent of the victim, including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent.” Rape, fondling, and the use of date rape drugs all fall under the umbrella of forcible sexual assault within Sinclair’s policy, and while all refer to the concept of consent, none of them directly define it.

Sinclair Campus Police Chief Charles Gift said that Sinclair’s current definitions are dictated by state law.

“Sinclair Police are bound by federal law to utilize the Clery definitions,” he said. “Sinclair Police also must use the definitions supplied in the Ohio Revised Code Sexual Assault Sections when determining if a state crime has been committed. Sinclair is bound by state law for state prosecutions and cannot change the state definitions.”

While the state definitions cannot be altered, campus policy could reflect an understanding of affirmative consent, and Gift said that the department is currently reviewing their policies on this issue and has yet to make a decision.

However, many women across campus do not think the present policy suffices and are advocating that campus police do something to promote an affirmative understanding of consent.

Mar’Shell Crosby, a multimedia journalism major and the president of A Culturally Educated Sisterhood (ACES), Sinclair’s only women’s group, said she supports the use of an affirmative definition.

“It would create awareness and an opportunity for someone to tell if it happened to them.” she said. “Knowledge is power. All you have to do is pass it on. They need to create awareness on this issue.”

Sierra Berghoefer, a health sciences major, agrees that an affirmative definition should be adopted.

“If you are sexually assaulted, there are always questions, like ‘Why didn’t you fight?’” she said. “I feel that the stigma would be against me, and if there was a policy in place that says ‘yes means yes,’ that would give me more confidence to come forward. When you define things more, people can understand more.”

Crosby said that creating awareness on affirmative consent and sexual assault is particularly important for Sinclair’s younger students.

“I consider Sinclair to be 13th grade. Sinclair is central to many high schools, and so many young students come here already as friends,” she said.

Crosby said that, for many teens and young students, the line of consent is muddled because of those already established relationships. According to Crosby, some don’t understand what consent is, let alone how to navigate it in the presence of a relationship.

Zoe Mornhinweg, a forensic psychology major, agrees, but said this is a problem for many.

“I don’t think the issue of someone needing to say ‘yes’ is very clear,” she said. “There is always this kind of gray area with marriage and relationships, and it is believed that it always has to be consensual just because you’re dating someone or married. But that does not mean they have the right over your body. It is still your body.”

Mornhinweg said that an affirmative consent policy could help correct this social attitude.

Sinclair has only had one instance of a reported forcible sexual assault within the last three years. Gift attributes this to the nature of Sinclair’s campus.

“Sinclair is a commuter college which greatly reduces the circumstances in which sexual assaults on campuses occur,” he said.

However, A’Muare Page, an art major, thinks that this is an equally important issue for community and commuter colleges.

“Are we not important? This seems to only be considered at universities,” she said. “Think about how many students go up to other universities to party or to transfer. Even though you go to a community college, I feel like you still need to be aware, and there are still things that can happen here.”

Berghoefer agrees that this is still an important issue.

“You don’t always need a bed to sexually assault someone,” she said.

Furthermore, Crosby wonders if not defining consent could have consequences.

“If you don’t put the policy out there, and that one becomes two, and then that two becomes three, what then? Now, it’s a problem, and it could have been prevented the whole time,” she said.

Ultimately, whether Sinclair’s policy is changed or not, these students would like to see more awareness across campus.

“I don’t think there are enough avenues that do this on university campuses or at Sinclair,” said Berghoefer.

“I think they should adopt this policy, but you can’t make people do anything,” said Mornhinweg. “You need to show people the consequences. You have to teach people that the shame isn’t theirs, that they need to talk about it and you need to target the correct people.”

Crosby, Page and Mornhinweg all suggested doing a Sinclair Talk to discuss and educate students on Sinclair’s sexual assault policy and the issue of affirmative consent. Crosby suggested a seminar, allowing those affected by sexual assault to speak out.

“Everyone has a story, and everybody’s story needs to be heard because there is always something you can learn,” she said.
Page suggested that campus police could host a rally, akin to Welcome Week, with different people, organizations and information present for students to educate themselves.

“A rally would actually encourage people to get together,” she said.

Currently, Gift said that Sinclair does have some educational programs in place to spread safety and awareness on a variety of issues.

“The Sinclair Safety Expo provides the opportunity for all students, staff and faculty to learn more about safety from a variety of area safety agencies,” he said. “All personnel and students are encouraged to take advantage of these programs.”

Additionally, Sinclair offers educational seminars on self-protection, date rape, sexual assault and domestic violence prevention, which are available upon request for any group or organization on campus, along with the RAD Program (Rape Aggression Defense course), which educates students on practical defensive techniques, personal safety, awareness, risk reduction and avoidance.

In the end, these students are still asking for more proactive awareness and heightened dialogue.

“I think this issue is something that needs to be broadcasted,” Page said.

Berghoefer agrees.

“You can have an anti-gay speaker come and talk to a huge audience, but you can’t host a talk on the issue of sexual assault and rape on college campuses. What does Sinclair have to lose by talking about rape and sexual assault?” asked Berghoefer.

Hope Houston
Intern