State lawmakers introduce sexual assault bill to define consent
With Michigan’s two flagship universities, the University of Michigan and MSU, having investigations conducted by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights for their handling of sexual assault and harassment cases over the past year, two state lawmakers are introducing legislation to better educate children before they get to college.
Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D-East Lansing) and Rep. Tom Cochran (D-Mason) announced their “yes means yes” bill Wednesday in the Michigan Senate.
This bill would require Michigan schools that teach sex education to have a larger conversation with their students about sexual consent.
Hertel said they chose “yes means yes” as opposed to “no means no” because he feels it re-frames the issue in a more positive light.
He said, rather than focus on if the victim can say “no” loudly enough, it shifts the focus to what consent is and how to know if there is mutual affirmative consent.
Hertel said during a press conference Tuesday morning, according to numbers he attained from ASMSU, MSU’s campus had 9,866 students report sexual assault or relationship violence in the past year alone.
“As a father of four, I know that when we send our kids off to college, we should be worried about their grades and if they’re learning enough — the last thing we should be worried about is our child being a victim of sexual assault,” Hertel said.
East Lansing police Lt. Scott Wrigglesworth said he has seen a dangerous trend evolving where many college students simply do not know what consent looks or sounds like.
“They believe the absence of no means their partner was saying yes,” Wrigglesworth said.
Wrigglesworth said according to a conducted by The Washington Post, 46 percent of current and recent college students said it’s unclear whether sexual activity when both people have not given clear consent is sexual assault and it can be.
Joining the two legislators at the press conference Tuesday was East Lansing High School’s co-president of Students for Gender Equality Sarah Hansen.
She said her and her classmates were all concerned at how little was taught regarding sexual consent.
“Consent is crucial to discuss with young people if we want to eradicate the rape culture we live in,” Hansen said. “Consent is simple ‑ yes means yes, and no means no. Everyone must become more aware of the importance of consent, and that starts in the classroom.
“We need more open discussions in our classrooms with our peers and educators. We need to learn in a safe environment where open, gender neutral discussions are welcome ‑ instead of relying on misinformation from other sources.”
Kathy Hagenian, the executive policy director for the , said one in five women are sexually assaulted in college, and 13 percent of women reported being forced to have sex while in a dating relationship.
In addition to requiring the teaching of affirmative consent — where both parties consciously and without the influence of drugs or alcohol agree that they want to engage in sex — the bill also clarifies several issues surrounding the definition of consent.
The bill would clarify that silence or lack of resistance does not constitute consent and that consent can be rescinded at any point during sex.
It would also specify that the existence of a dating relationship between two people does not imply consent.
Cochran said in the press release that he is sponsoring this bill in the House of Representatives because he feels the current state statute does not put enough emphasis on consent.
“Given the recent upsurge in campus sexual assault cases, it’s clear that our current statute simply doesn’t put enough emphasis on what consent means,” Cochran said in a press release. “Teaching our kids about affirmative consent is a great first step in the fight against the epidemic of sexual assault.”